Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Journey Continues

The news yesterday and again this morning (especially on the sports channels) was filled with something that always commands my attention ... another suicide.  This time it was a professional football player who killed his girlfriend and then himself.  Whenever I hear something like this it brings my own experience back to the surface.  I feel for the families because I know exactly what they are going through - the shock and disbelief now and what lies ahead for them - the denial, questions, anger, and guilt.  I know this is something that will stay with them every day for the rest of their lives just as it has stayed with me for the last four years.  While I have made great strides in moving on with my life, not a day goes by that I don't remember and think about what happened.  Even though I know I'll never get any answers, I still ask questions.  It is impossible, at least for me, to understand someone completely giving up the will to live.  Because I don't understand the choice that was made, acceptance has been difficult.

I now know that suicide is a desperate, irrational, irreversible, and extremely selfish act.  It is a traumatic event that changes the lives of those left behind forever.  As a survivor I have learned to adapt while also accepting that nothing will ever be the same.  Holidays, special days, and anniversaries are difficult, no matter how many years have passed.  I still find it hard to attend parties, weddings, and graduations - events that should be happy occasions.  While working to put my life back together I have had to deal with the unfinished business created by Eddie's suicide.  There were disagreements that weren't settled, decisions that weren't made, and words that were left unsaid.  Letting go of those regrets hasn't been an easy thing to do.

I have been forced to take a journey that was not of my choosing.  Along the way I have learned to cope with what happened and to rebuild my life piece by piece.  I have struggled, but I have also found strength I never knew I had.  I've had to accept that I'll never "get over" what happened - I just learn to live with it.  The recovery process is a long, slow test of patience and endurance - one that may never be completely finished.  But I have learned it is possible to survive and to slowly move forward one step at the time.

Prayer of Faith
We trust that beyond absence
there is a presence.
That beyond pain
there can be healing.
That beyond the brokenness
there can be wholeness.
That beyond the anger
there may be peace.
That beyond the hurting
there may be forgiveness.
That beyond the silence
there may be the Word.
That beyond the Word
there may be understanding.
That through understanding
there is love.
~author unknown

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Circle of Life

I thought I had ended my writing about my experience with Eddie, but I realized on a recent trip that I had one more piece of the story to tell.  I attended a reunion a few weeks ago with some friends from junior college that I hadn't seen in over 20 years.  Eddie and I met in college, so I knew the weekend would bring back many memories.  All of the friends I was going to see had not only known Eddie but had also known the two of us as a couple.  Most of us met on Friday night for a wonderful dinner prepared by our friend Jenny. One of the first things I saw upon entering her house was an SGC yearbook lying on the table.  After all of the hellos and hugs were taken care of I was of course drawn to the book.  As I opened it and saw the baseball pictures of Eddie I was reminded of when and how we met...

We were beginning our second year at South Georgia Junior College in Douglas, Georgia.  We both went back a few days before the fall quarter began to serve as peer counselors for incoming freshmen.  Eddie had had knee surgery over the summer and was walking on crutches.  On one of the first evenings back a group of us decided to go to a restaurant across the street from the college.  It was one of those steak places where you go through a line to order then carry your tray to the table.  I hadn't actually met him at the time, but I ended up in line behind Eddie.  Since he was on crutches and couldn't carry a tray I told him to put his things on mine.  I carried the tray to a table where we naturally sat together and began talking.  Little did we know this would be the beginning of a 29 year relationship. 

Our reunion continued on Saturday with a delicious brunch at our friend Janie's house.  Although we spent a great deal of time catching up on each other's lives, the talk always seemed to turn back to our college days.  Everyone had some story they wanted to tell, and almost every conversation began with "do you remember the time...?"  (I have to say a thank you here to my friend Nancy who kept asking me if I was OK and whether we needed to change the conversation.  She was obviously concerned about how I was handling it all.)  We went back to Jenny's house after brunch and spent the afternoon looking at pictures that thankfully Regina had taken, kept, and remembered to bring after all these years.  As I looked at all of the pictures I was taken back in time to each of the events - dances, parties, trips to the beach, hanging out in the dorms.  Some things I remembered vividly, and others I had almost completely forgotten.  The funniest of all was the beach picture my friend Sue and I looked at over and over trying our best to figure out who the people in the picture were ... after several minutes we realized IT WAS US ... Sue with her boyfriend David and me with Eddie.

Saturday night was the "main event" of the reunion.  We had dinner at the Fern Bank which is amazingly in the same place with the same name as when we were in college.  It's now a sports bar/restaurant, but 30 years ago it was THE place to hang out for the college students.  It looks completely different now, but that night I could picture it just as it was back then.  I could remember the music we listened to, who was there, where we danced, where we sat, what we drank, the conversations we had in the bathroom - everything.  The common phrase that kept being repeated that night was "if these walls could talk!"

Sunday morning came all too quickly, and it was suddenly time to leave my friends and head back home.  As I was pulling out of Janie's neighborhood something told me to turn in the opposite direction of what I should have.  I suddenly knew there was one last thing I needed to do before leaving Douglas - I had to go to the college.  As I turned into the gates of SGC I was overwhelmed with the memories and emotions of 30 years ago.  Of course the campus has changed over the years.  Some of the old buildings are gone and new ones are in their place.  But some things were the same.  I could see what used to be the athletic dorm and knew exactly which room had been Eddie's. 

As I drove through the campus, I knew where I was headed - to the baseball field.  It's been updated quite a bit, but it was in the same location.  I stopped the car, got out, and walked to the field.  When I saw the sign it dawned on me that Trey had never seen where his daddy first played college ball.  I felt this was something important for him to know, so I took pictures of the sign and the field and sent them to Trey from my phone.  Then I walked out onto the field.  It was completely silent, and I could feel a light breeze blowing.  I could see the team on the field as they were 30 years ago, and I felt as though Eddie was there with me.  I stood there for several minutes just looking around and remembering.  Then I blew a kiss toward center field, said a quiet good-bye, and walked to the car.  I left knowing going back to the college had been the right thing to do.  I had completed my circle with Eddie by returning to where it had all begun. 

"Some of us fall by the wayside, and some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles, and some have to live with the scars.
There's far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found.
But the sun rollin' high through the sapphire sky
Keeps the great and small on the endless round.
In the circle of life, it's the wheel of fortune.
It's the leap by faith. It's the band of hope.
Till, we find our place on the path unwinding,
Yea in the circle - the circle of life."

From "The Circle of Life" by Elton John

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Every Day is a Gift

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24)  There have been many days during the last three plus years that I have not been glad and haven't felt like celebrating or rejoicing.  But regardless of how down I got or how difficult the times were I never reached a point that I didn't want to go on living.  It's for this reason that I'll never be able to understand why anyone chooses to end their own life.  For me there has always been someone or something that has kept me going; there has always been and always will be a reason to keep living.  God gave each of us a life here on this earth, and I believe it is up to us to live it to its fullest and make the most of the time we have.  Every day is a gift to be cherished not thrown away.

I began writing as a means of therapy two years after Eddie's death.  I also hoped that by sharing my experiences and feelings with others I might help someone else in a similar situation.  I have dealt with many emotions during this time - sadness, disappointment, regret, anger, resentment, guilt, bitterness, helplessness.  I haven't completely stopped having some of these feelings, but I no longer experience them with the same intensity as I did initially.  Even the bitterness and resentment that resurfaced recently have started to subside.  I'm sure I will probably have times now and then for the rest of my life that I still have some of these feelings.  That's only natural when you lose someone who was a part of your life for 28 years.  But I know now that I can handle them - they don't have to control my life. 

I've learned a lot about myself during this time.  I have done my best to remain strong, confident, secure, and independent, but I've had to accept that I'm only human.  I have had and I'm sure will continue to have moments of weakness, and that's OK as long as I don't give in to these for any length of time.  I've also had to accept that sometimes I need help from others, though I haven't done a very good job of learning how to ask for it.  I've learned that as much as I may want to, I can't control everything in my life, and I certainly can't control any of the people in it.  Every person has their own free will and chooses how to live their life - that choice isn't mine.

I also know about some things that I could have gone the rest of my life without learning - specifically alcoholism, suicide, and grief.  I quoted a Kid Rock song (When it Rains) earlier that said "I wish I didn't know now the things I never knew before..."  Unfortunately I do know about these things now, and there's nothing I can do to change that.  I just have to accept what happened, live with it, and hopefully learn from it.  Despite the events of the last three years my life has continued, and as I'm learning now it can be a happy life again.

I've reached a point where I feel I have said everything there is to say about my past experiences and feelings.  I plan to continue writing from time to time but not about Eddie's alcoholism and suicide.  While those things will always be a part of me, I don't intend to let them be a big part of my future.  I'm going to think positively and say that at some point I will be writing about my mother's recovery from cancer, about Trey getting married, about the milestones Emily will reach as she grows up, and about good things happening for me personally.  After all - Life Goes On ...

"There's Always a Springtime" - Helen Steiner Rice

After the winter comes the spring
To show us again that in everything
There's always a renewal divinely planned,
Flawlessly perfect, the work of God's hand.
And just like the seasons that come and go
When the flowers of spring lay buried in snow,
God sends to the heart in its winter of sadness
A springtime awakening of new hope and gladness.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Riding a Roller Coaster

I just returned from our yearly family vacation to Panama City Beach.  We started going about 15 years ago in mid to late July as a part of Trey's birthday present.  Over the years we have met a great group of people who go the same week and stay in the same place as we do.  We have gradually become friends with them and look forward to seeing them every year.  The group has steadily grown, and this year there were close to 50 people there!  Of course it's impossible for that many people to do everything together, but there are certain things that most everyone does.  This year we grilled and had a huge steak dinner one night (45+ steaks cooked for adults with hot dogs for the kids) followed by a birthday party beside the pool that continued later that night on the beach.  We also took pontoon boats out for a five hour ocean ride one afternoon where we picked up sand dollars, watched dolphins swimming, and visited Shell Island.  There were five boats rented with almost 50 people on board!

I wouldn't want to give up this trip and miss seeing everyone for anything.  But unfortunately even after three years, it continues to be a difficult week for me.  I thoroughly enjoy the things we do together, but each year I miss Eddie and regret that he isn't there with us.  At the end of each trip I feel like I've been on an emotional roller coaster for the entire week - happy and up one minute, sad and down the next.  I always remember how much Eddie enjoyed these trips, but I'm constantly reminded that I'm no longer enjoying the trips as a part of a couple.  I still look for him sitting beside the pool or throwing a football on the beach.  This year when we took the pontoon boats out I had two specific times when I thought for a second that Eddie was there - once I actually turned to ask him if he saw the dolphins and once I could have sworn that I saw him standing on the beach at Shell Island.

I realized on this trip that the bitterness I've been feeling lately and the fact that I haven't forgiven Eddie 100% is related more to what he took away from Trey than to what he took away from me.  This year I watched Trey go deep sea fishing and play horse shoes on the beach with someone else Eddie's age.  I also watched that same person playing with Emily, and I couldn't help but think how it should have been Trey's father and Emily's Papi doing those things with them.  After watching these, I took a long walk on the beach one morning by myself to do a lot of thinking.  It was then that I realized my bitterness and anger are more over what Trey lost than what I lost.

I know we will continue this yearly trip because it has become a tradition that we don't want to give up.  What I don't know is how much longer these memories and feelings of loss will continue to make the trip with me.  I know I'll never forget the times Eddie was there as a part of our fun, but I would like to return from my vacation feeling rested and relaxed instead of feeling like I've spent the entire week on a roller coaster.

"What kind of God would give you families and then ask you to leave them?  What kind of God would give you friends and then ask you to say good-bye?  A God who knows that we are only pilgrims and that eternity is so close that any "Good-bye" is in reality a "See you tomorrow." -Max Lucado (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Remembering ...

When I received the news a few days ago that a dear friend of mine from school had suffered an aneurysm and was in a coma, it prompted me to go into the attic and bring down boxes containing my high school memorabilia.  There were three in all that had been stored unopened since we moved into our house over 20 years ago.  To be honest, when I first went into the attic I wasn't even sure the boxes were still there much less where they would be.  I had to search for quite a while before finding them buried under a pile of old rugs and blankets.  I took the boxes into the living room and sat down on the floor to begin looking.  I didn't know what I would find when I opened them - it had been so long since I packed them I didn't remember what I put in.

The first box I opened contained a scrapbook from my senior year.  As I began to look through that book I was taken immediately back to 1978-79.  It was as if the last 33 years just disappeared, and I was a high school senior again.  I looked at pictures and read old newspaper articles.  I found cards, love notes, and ticket stubs from dances.  I found my diary with dried flowers pressed inside and reread every entry for the entire year.  I could remember everything like it happened yesterday.  Some of the memories made me laugh, some of them made me cry, but they all made me realize how much I missed my friends and the place I will always consider home.

I spent several hours going through those three boxes.  I couldn't believe all of the stuff I had kept, but I was so thankful that I did.  There were buttons and ribbons from football and basketball games, award certificates, my student council gavel, plaques, a spirit stick, I.D. bracelets, and of course all of my high school yearbooks.  I even found my class ring that I thought I had lost years ago!  It doesn't fit any more, but I cleaned it and placed it in my jewelry box anyway.  

When I had finished going through everything, I decided I didn't want to pack it all away in the boxes again.  Instead I cleaned out the drawers in the nightstand beside my bed and placed all of the items there where I can look at them anytime I want.  I may decide to get them out often, or I may never look at them again - who knows?  But having them nearby where I can relive those memories if I choose is like having my old friends here with me.

The Golden Chain of Friendship - Helen Steiner Rice 

Friendship is a golden chain, the links are friends so dear,
And like a rare and precious jewel, it's treasured more each year.
It's clasped together firmly with a love that's deep and true,
And it's rich with happy memories and fond recollections too.
Time can't destroy its beauty, for as long as memory lives,
Years can't erase the pleasure that the joy of friendship gives.
For friendship is a priceless gift that can't be bought or sold,
And to have an understanding friend is worth far more than gold.
And the golden chain of friendship is a strong and blessed tie
Binding kindred hearts together as the years go passing by.

*The friend whose hospitalization led to my trip down memory lane passed away just a few days after being admitted.  Thankfully, many of the pictures in my senior scrapbook included him.  We shared a lot of good times and made many special memories together.  He was a true friend - one that I will always hold close to my heart.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Best and the Worst of Times

I remember watching A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens for a literature class when I was in high school.  Of course we didn't have DVD's or even VHS tapes in school then.  The movie was in black and white, and we watched it from a film projector on a small screen.  The opening line of that movie (as well as the book) has always stuck in my mind ... "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  When I watched the movie as a teenager I didn't really understand the significance of those words.  The one thing I remember thinking was how could that be - those things are complete opposites - how can they exist at the same time?   Although I didn't remember all of it, the opening line goes on to say "... it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..." - more opposites that shouldn't be able to exist together.  I've come to realize this summer though that all of those things can in fact exist together.  You can experience events and feelings at the same time that are polar opposites - things that are so different in every important respect that they shouldn't be able to exist in conjunction with each other.

The beginning of summer is always an exciting time.  It means the end of another school year, time off from work to relax and enjoy myself, no papers to grade or lesson plans to write, the promise of trips to the beach, afternoons by the pool, books to read for pleasure, and no set times to go to bed at night or get up in the morning.  In other words, the beginning of summer represents "the best of times."  My summer this year started off that way.  I had made the decision that no matter how scared I might be it was time to open myself up to the possibility of having a new relationship in my life.  My mother had responded well to her chemotherapy treatments during the past year.  Trey was settled in a new house and doing well with his work and his personal life.  I didn't know anyone, friend or relative, that seemed to be having any major problems in their life.

I soon found that "the best of times" was going to be short lived though.  My mother's initial tumor became resistant to the treatment she was receiving, and she is now waiting to have her treatment changed.  I learned that the 16-year-old daughter of an old high school friend had died in a car wreck.  Trey was faced with making a major decision concerning his job and ultimately his future, and I wasn't sure I was helping him make the "right" decision.  I found that opening myself up to the possibility of a new relationship brought with it the risk of being disappointed and hurt.  Then I learned a dear friend that I have known since third grade had suffered an aneurysm and is currently in intensive care in a coma.  "The best of times" I had been experiencing seemed to be gradually turning into "the worst of times."  A season that began with so much light was beginning to be filled with pockets of darkness.  Although I was holding onto hope that everything would turn out for the best, I was beginning to feel despair at the same time.  One minute I was feeling like I had everything to look forward to, and the next I was questioning whether I had anything good to look forward to.

I have felt all of these contradictory emotions at the same time and with equal intensity.  They don't exist separately but rather together seemingly in a struggle with each other.  I literally go from feeling on top of the world one minute, to feeling as if I'm at the bottom of a deep valley the next.  It's been over three years since Eddie died, but I believe these up and down feelings are still related to what I experienced with him.  My life with him was such a roller coaster for so many years that I don't think I've ever completely gotten off that ride.  I'm sure that in time these feelings will subside just as others have, but sometimes it's extremely hard to have the patience necessary to wait on the change to take place.

"Dear Lord, give me patience.  Let me live according to Your plan and according to Your timetable.  When I am hurried, slow me down.  When I become impatient with others, give me empathy.  When I am frustrated by the demands of the day, give me peace.  Today, let me be a patient Christian, Lord, as I trust in You and in Your master plan for my life."  (from Prayers and Promises for Women)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Letting God Be in Control

I turned my calendar to July this morning, and it hit me - one year ago this month my mother went into the hospital and was told she had cancer.  The initial prognosis was not good.  One doctor actually had the nerve to tell her she should start "getting her affairs in order".  Now here we are, one year later - she is alive and feeling well most of the time, but there is still so much uncertainty surrounding her condition.  It has definitely been an up and down year.  After recovering from the initial shock, my mother went to an oncologist in Atlanta who felt he could help her and offer her some hope.  She began receiving chemotherapy treatments and had overwhelmingly positive results for a time.  Her tumor marker number dropped drastically, the spots on her liver decreased, and the tumor in her abdomen shrunk to the point that the doctor couldn't even feel it when he examined her.  Unfortunately, the positive effects of the current chemo have subsided, and the abdominal tumor has started to increase in size again.  The doctor now has to find a new chemo "mixture" because the tumor has become resistant to what was being used.  At this point, she doesn't know when her next treatment will be - apparently it takes time to study the initial tumor and determine what course to take next.

My mother is a very strong person with a positive attitude and a profound faith in God.  She has always been more concerned about others and their problems than about herself.  She takes care of those around her sometimes to the point of neglecting her own health.  She has been there for me throughout my entire life, seeing me through my troubles no matter how large or small.  From something as minor as a broken heart over a high school boyfriend to the trauma of Eddie's alcoholism and death, my mother has stood by me.  I would not have survived Eddie's suicide without her love and support.  She put her entire life on hold after his death to help Trey and me.

I have always prided myself on being strong and able to cope with whatever happens in my life.  I know this strength initially came from my mother.  I need to be strong for her now, but lately I have felt my strength wavering (those who know me know that isn't an easy thing for me to admit).  As I've written before, I've always had the need/desire to be in control of everything in my life.  Facing a situation that I have no control over, just as I did with Eddie's alcoholism and suicide, is something I don't know how to handle.  I'm trying to be patient, take things one day at the time, pray, and turn everything over to God.  I talk to God a great deal (not just through prayer), and right or wrong, I tell him exactly what I think.  Lately I've found myself telling Him that I think my family has been through enough and it's time for us to relax, be happy and enjoy life.  I know that isn't really my decision to make, but it's how I feel. 

As has happened a lot recently, I came across something to read that spoke directly to these feelings.  It was a page torn from a devotional book and given to me by my grandmother just after Eddie died.  I've kept it in my bible since then.  In part it says "...when tragedy strikes or loss occurs, we don't understand why God does not prevent such things from happening to us and hurting us so badly ... often we become angry and ask if God is good and all-powerful, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people? ... excessive reasoning, trying to figure out things for which we will not be able to find an answer, torments and brings much confusion."  The corresponding bible verses were Proverbs 3:5-6 ... "Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.  In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths."  I know this is telling me that I have to let God be in control of the events and direction of my life as well as the lives of those I love - I just have to work on accepting that.

Fortress of Faith by Helen Steiner Rice

It's easy to say "In God we trust" when life is radiant and fair,
But the test of faith is only found when there are burdens to bear.
For our claim to faith in the sunshine is really no faith at all,
For when roads are smooth and days are bright our need for God is so small.
And no one discovers the fullness or the greatness of God's love
Unless they have walked in the darkness with only a light from above.
For the faith to endure whatever comes is born of sorrow and trials
And strengthened only by discipline and nurtured by self-denials.
So be not disheartened by troubles for trials are the building blocks
On which to erect a fortress of faith, secure on God's ageless rocks.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Choices, Chances, Changes

I have decided that if I am going to overcome my feelings of bitterness and resentment, I need to focus on the positive things in my life rather than on the negative events of the past.  I have spent a part of each day recently reading a devotion and praying (something I had gotten away from during the past few months).  In my prayers I have realized how much I have to be thankful for ... my family, good friends, a home, a secure job.  I have a wonderful son who has shown me recently that he truly wants me to move on with my life and be happy.  I still have both of my parents and a grandmother who support me in everything I do and a granddaughter that brings laughter every time she is around.  I have friends who have listened to me, cried with me, stood by me, and seen me through the toughest times in my life.  I have also had some new people come into my life who have quickly become good friends with which I've been able to share happy times and make new memories.  I am close to completing my specialist's degree in elementary education, and I recently received a grant that is going to equip my classroom with the newest technology for the upcoming school year.  I realize that I have a very busy and hopefully happy future to look forward to.

Just as my prayers have helped me see what I have to be thankful for, the devotions I've been reading have reminded me of what I knew but had forgotten for a while ... I am not alone.  I have come across devotions on anxiety, worry, stress, fear, forgiveness, hope, patience, relationships, and trusting God just when I seemed to need them the most.  Today's devotion was "Believe in the light" (John 12:36), and a part of it said "I realized God had been hovering near, feeling my pain ready to embrace me with a hug.  All I had to do was pay attention.  All I needed to do was listen.  And with Him by my side, I could pick myself up and feel my way to the light." 

In an effort to "pick myself up" I've decided it's time to be open to new people, new things, and new relationships in my life.  I built a wall around myself three years ago as a means of survival, and I've kept it there ever since.  But regardless of how scary it may be, I no longer want to keep myself and my feelings closed off in an effort to avoid future hurt and pain.  I realize now that while keeping the hurt and the pain out, I was also keeping the happiness, joy, and love out.  The lyrics of a Lady Antebellum song describe perfectly how I feel now ... "Seems like I was walking in the wrong direction.  I barely recognize my own reflection.  Seems I've been playing on the safe side, building walls around my heart to save me ... but it's time for me to let it go ... I'm ready to feel now.  No longer am I afraid of the fall down.  It must be time to move on now without the fear of how it might end." 

Life is about taking chances.  Some of those chances may lead to mistakes and heartache, but some of them will also lead to triumphs and happiness.  We cannot predict or plan how our life will turn out, and I've learned that we have to take the bad with the good.  But if we never take a chance at all things will always stay the same, and we will never know what we might be missing.  Choices, Chances, Changes - You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change (author unknown).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What are the Chances?

In trying to deal with my bitterness and resentment, I've been looking for things I can read on the subject.  Last night I found a devotional book Prayers and Promises for Women in the drawer of my nightstand.  I think my mother gave it to me sometime during the last three years, but I guess I hadn't read much from it because it still looked and felt new.  It's just a small paperback book, not of daily devotions but of devotions on specific topics.  I didn't look in the table of contents before opening the book.  I just opened it to where it seemed to want to naturally fall.  The topic it opened to was forgiveness, and the Bible verse at the top of the page was the same one I put in my "Blindsided" entry a few days ago ... Ephesians 4:32 ... And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.  What are the chances that this little book would open to the exact topic that I needed to read about?

As I read the devotion that followed the Bible verse, I couldn't help but cry because it fit so perfectly with how I was feeling.  The second paragraph said, "If, in your heart, you hold bitterness against even a single person, forgive. If there exists even one person, alive or dead, whom you have not forgiven, follow God's commandment and His will for your life: forgive.  If you are embittered against yourself for some past mistake or shortcoming, forgive. Then, to the best of your abilities, forget.  And move one.  Bitterness and regret are not part of God's plan for your life.  Forgiveness is."  I realized something new as I read this - I not only feel bitterness toward Eddie for what he did, I also feel bitterness toward myself for what I wasn't able to do.

I know in my head that I did everything I could to help Eddie with his alcoholism, but in my heart I still feel there was something more I could/should have done.  I thought I had overcome these feelings of guilt and of questioning myself about what I did or didn't do, but I guess they're not completely gone after all.  Regardless of how much I've read or the amount of counseling I've received, I still can't believe that I didn't see warning signs leading up to his suicide.  Even now, three years later, I still go back over the days and weeks before his death wondering what I missed and what I could have said or done differently.  I know looking back serves no purpose.  I can't change the past.  I can't undo what's already been done.  But as much as I know these things, I also know that I'm still carrying around a feeling of responsibility inside of me for what I wasn't able to do.

"He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass." -Corrie ten Boom

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Promise of a New Beginning

Today was Father's Day, and I experienced those feelings of bitterness and resentment very strongly because Eddie is not here for Trey.  This is the fourth Father's Day that Trey has gone through without his dad.  I know there are many sons and daughters who no longer have their fathers for various reasons.  If Eddie had died under different circumstances, I probably wouldn't be bitter or resent his not being here (at least not as much).  But because of the way he died, I was filled with negative feelings toward him today.  I know that Trey is an adult now (he's almost 28), and he had his father in his life longer than a lot of people do.  But regardless of a person's age, I think we always need the love, support, and guidance of our parents.  Even though we know it's not possible, we expect them to always be here for us.  Eddie took that away from Trey, and I'm having a very difficult time forgiving him for that.  Trey is a father himself now, and though I think he's doing a wonderful job, I know he wishes he had a father in his life to turn to for advice now and then.

In an effort to start dealing with my bitterness and resentment, I went to the cemetery today and took a bouquet of yellow roses.  I read somewhere that yellow roses represent the promise of a new beginning.  The color yellow is associated with the sun which is a source of light and warmth.  The sun is integral to life on Earth and its color holds many positive connotations.  I thought this would be a good way for me to make a new beginning.  While at the cemetery I admitted to God and to Eddie that I am experiencing feelings of bitterness.  I asked God to forgive me for these feelings and to help me find a way to get past them.  I also asked God to forgive Eddie for what he did that resulted in so much hurt and heartache for everyone who knew and loved him.  Finally I asked Eddie for his blessing on my efforts to move forward with my life.

I know these feelings aren't going to go away overnight.  As with everything else I've dealt with, it's going to take time, effort, and patience.  I wish I could just snap my fingers and make all of the bad feelings disappear, but I know that's not possible.  I made a start today, and that's what matters.  I'm sure I won't feel quite as bitter tomorrow because it will just be another day with no special meaning like today.  However, there are other special days coming in the next few weeks - Emily's 6th birthday and Trey's 28th birthday.  I'm sure I can expect to feel some bitterness that Eddie isn't here to share these special days, but hopefully the feelings won't be quite as strong as they were today.

A Prayer for Peace and Patience

God, teach me to be patient, teach me to go slow.
Teach me how to wait on You
when my way I do not know.
Teach me sweet forbearance,
when things do not go right,
So I remain unruffled when others grow uptight.
Teach me how to quiet my racing rising heart,
So I might hear the answer You are trying to impart.
Teach me to let go, dear God,
and pray undisturbed until
My heart is filled with inner peace
and I learn to know Your will.

Helen Steiner Rice

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Wow ... I wasn't expecting this and certainly wasn't in any way prepared for it.  During the past month I've written about acceptance and forgiveness, and I truly meant everything I said.  I know that I've accepted Eddie's death and the manner in which he died.  I have made great strides in forgiving him for both his alcoholism and suicide.  I guess my forgiveness isn't 100% complete though.  While talking with someone this past week I was surprised to realize the feelings of bitterness and resentment I have buried inside.  My reaction to some of the things that were said hit me like a ton of bricks.  I've experienced periods of anger over the past three years and still have an occasional angry thought even now.  But I honestly didn't know how much I still resent what Eddie put not only me, but Trey and everyone else, through.  So I apparently still have work to do - I have to deal with and get rid of this bitterness before it becomes something I can't let go of.  "Hurt leads to bitterness, bitterness to anger, travel too far that road and the way is lost." -Terry Brooks

I know that bitterness is an irrational, destructive emotion.  It is the result of being hurt or disappointed by a person or by circumstances, and it becomes worse when we cannot confront who or what caused it.  It is not visible like anger but is an underlying problem that dwells on the inside.  The Bible describes bitterness as a root and strongly warns against letting it take hold ("See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Hebrews 12:15).  A root is a source that fuels things on the surface.  The root of bitterness is hidden in the heart and even in the soul and if left untreated can feed other negative emotions.  When we hold these feelings inside they fester and grow.  Although it is hidden deep inside, bitterness can spread easily and have an effect on everything we think, say, and do.  "Carrying a grudge is a loser's game. It is the ultimate frustration because it leaves you with more pain than you had in the first place." -Lewis B. Smedes

Bitterness comes from not completely forgiving the person or the circumstances that hurt us.  But no person or event can make us bitter.  It is our attitude that makes us bitter because we choose to respond in a bitter way.  I allowed the trauma of Eddie's alcoholism and subsequent suicide to get to me and without realizing it let the roots of bitterness and resentment be planted inside of me.  Those feelings have slowly grown over time and are just now reaching the surface.  In order to begin getting rid of these pent up negative emotions I have to admit they exist then find a way to cut off and remove the root.  In my reading I found two steps necessary to get started with this "removal" - admit to God that the bitterness is wrong and pray for the one (Eddie) that I have bitterness against ("And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." Mark 11:25, 26).  I have to set a goal to be free of bitterness and resentment and accomplish it through prayer, will, and desire.  I will make an effort to count my blessings, guard my thoughts, resist when negative ones try to enter, and only think about positive things.  It wont be easy, but as with everything else I will be able to do it in time.

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:31, 32

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Memories that Last a Lifetime

Everyone has their favorite place to go for a vacation - the mountains, the desert, amusement parks, resorts, spas, even other countries.  All of these are unique and special in their own way.  I'm sure they all offer fun and excitement in different forms.  But for me there is no better place in the world than the beach for escape and relaxation.  There is something about the ocean with the sight and sound of the waves that creates a sense of peace and calm within me.  When I'm there I feel I can cast out all of my problems and worries, then watch them wash away with the tide.  The sun, the sand, and the water have a healing effect on both my mind and my heart.  I always leave the beach with a renewed hope and a feeling of somehow being cleansed.  It is a powerful place that is and always has been a form of therapy for me.  "The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea." -Isak Dinesen

My trips to the beach began as family vacations when I was a small child.  I remember going to Daytona Beach with my parents and grandparents.  My fondest memories of those trips are of riding the ferris wheel, playing putt-putt and skeeball, and watching saltwater taffy being made at the candy shop on the boardwalk.  I also remember my grandfather sitting by the pool or the beach wearing shorts that went down to his knees, socks up to his mid-calf, and tennis shoes.  I remember that everyone used a suntan lotion called No-Ad because it came in huge quantities and was cheap.  I remember swimming in the motel pool until I was so tired I could hardly stand up and walking down the sidewalk to eat at the Steak-n-Shake.  "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." -Jacques Cousteau

My trips to the beach continued into my teen years when my mother would take one (or more) of my friends and me to Jekyll Island for the day.  We always bought a huge jar of dill pickles, ate them on the way, then drank the juice.  We left in the morning, usually took a lunch with us, spent the day at the beach, then drove back home.  Sometimes we would visit the historical homes in the area, but mainly we sunbathed, played in the sand, and swam in the ocean.  I didn't realize then how special those days were, but they made a lasting impression on me.  "Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone." -Anonymous

When I was old enough, after high school and into college, I went to the beach with my friends.  We did what all teenagers and young adults do when they're away from home - tried to act like we were much older than we actually were!  Once I was married and Trey came along, we started our own family trips to the beach.  Over the years we settled into a yearly trip to Panama City where we made new friends who are a part of my memories now.  These trips continue today, and Emily is now going with us.  My memories of these family trips are of first watching Trey and his friends play and have fun and now of watching Emily do the same things in the same place.  Together we have created memories riding go-carts, having low-country boils, riding the banana boat, and doing karaoke on the deck.  "We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea - whether it is to sail or to watch it - we are going back from whence we came." -JFK

During all of these trips I have seen the ocean and the beach hundreds of times.  I have witnessed many sunsets, sunrises, full moons, and storms.  But I never cease to be amazed at the beauty of it all or at the joy I feel every time I am there.  I recently returned from another trip to the beach where I experienced all of the same feelings of peace, calm, hope, and a renewal of spirit.  I sat and watched the sun set over the ocean and was in awe of the unbelievable picture it created.  At that last moment when the sun seems to disappear into the ocean it's as if the horizon catches on fire as the sky is filled with a burst of yellow, orange, and red.  Later that same night, I sat on the beach and watched a gorgeous full moon rising in the opposite direction.  It lit up the entire beach and created shimmers and sparkles across the ocean that looked like stars dancing on the water.  In those two moments it was impossible for me to comprehend that some people don't believe in God, because only He could create something so beautiful and amazing that it brings tears to your eyes.   "He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness." Job 26:10

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Time for Forgiveness

I spent a big part of this evening sitting outside thinking, listening to music, looking up at the stars, and having a very long talk with Eddie.  I've written recently about learning to stand on my own, moving on with my life, accepting what has happened, and being thankful for what God has done to get me to this point.  I realized tonight that the one thing I still have left to do is to forgive.  For the most part I have already forgiven myself for not being able to help Eddie, but I have not forgiven Eddie for what he did - to himself, to me, to Trey, to everyone who loved and cared about him.  But I know that if I am going to be 100% free to move on with my life, I have to forgive him.  "Forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past" (author unknown).  Blaming Eddie and holding on to what happened isn't going to change anything now or ever. 

Forgiveness means "to give up the wish to punish or get even with; to not have hard feelings at or toward."  I don't think I've ever wanted to punish or get even with Eddie, but I have had hard feelings toward him for what he did (through both his alcoholism and his suicide).  If I am finally going to be at peace, I have to let go of those hard feelings.  "Forgiving and being forgiven are two names for the same thing.  The important thing is that a discord has been resolved" (C. S. Lewis).  When Eddie was alive I resented his drinking and the problems it caused.  Since his death I've resented his suicide - I felt like he took the easy way out and left the rest of us to deal with the messy cleanup.  I've accepted now that my resentment serves no purpose, and I have to let go of it for my own sake.

I didn't start out the evening planning to forgive Eddie.  But sometime while talking to him tonight it hit me that the time for forgiveness has come.  I'm ready to forgive him for his drinking, for his suicide, and for the pain both of those caused.  Once I admitted that to myself and to him, the tears flowed like they haven't in a very long time.  They were tears of sadness, hurt, pain, betrayal, acceptance, forgiveness, hope, and peace.  "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you" (author unknown).  It's taken a long time but  I know now that by forgiving him, I'm allowing myself to have a future without blame, resentment, and other negative feelings - a future of freedom.  I'll never forget, but I have forgiven.

"Forgiving does not erase the bitter past.  A healed memory is not a deleted memory.  Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember.  We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future." -Louis B. Smedes

"Unanswered" Prayers

I always end with some type of quote - a Bible verse, poem, or lyrics from a song - that relates to what I have written.  This time I've chosen to begin with something I found on a website of inspirational sayings.  I read it, said "Wow-this is my life," and posted it on my facebook page...

I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brains to work.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I needed.
My prayers have all been answered.
-Author Unknown

From the time I was little, I remember saying prayers - bedtime prayers, the blessing before a meal, prayers in church.  My prayers began with short memorized ones like "now I lay me down to sleep," and "God is great" then progressed to more personal ones as I learned what to ask for and how to ask for it.  I always expected my prayers to be answered because I was taught they would be if I had faith and believed.  It wasn't until the last few years that I learned the answers to my prayers don't always come in the form I choose or in the time I would like.  I've had to learn that God answers prayers in his own time and in His own way. 

It would have been easy for God to just give me the strength I prayed for, but the strength I have today is much greater because it wasn't handed to me - I built it myself, with God's help, through the events I've dealt with in my life.  I don't have all of the answers for myself or anyone else, but I have a much greater wisdom today because God helped me solve my own problems rather than solving them for me.  I'm not by any means materially rich, but God gave me what I needed to get an education and a good job, and then He left it up to me to use it.  I believe courage comes in different forms and means different things to different people.  God helped me to develop my own kind of courage by placing obstacles in my life and then helping me find ways to overcome them.  I haven't always been the most patient person, but I believe my patience is improving because God has made me wait for things rather than immediately giving me what I've asked for.  I've always been blessed with the love of family and friends, and I've tried to share that love through my teaching.  Now I'm hopefully sharing it through my writing.  If I can help even one person who's going through situations similar to mine then I will have been successful.  God has presented me with many opportunities for learning and growth in my life and has helped me see how to use these to help myself as well as others.

Three years ago I would have said that God wasn't listening to me.  None of my prayers were being answered.  Nothing I was so desperately asking for was happening.  At the time I didn't understand why.  Now I do.  I didn't get what I wanted when I wanted it.  I didn't get what I wanted in the way I wanted it.  But I did get what I needed.  God slowly, steadily helped me develop what I needed so that I could play a part in answering my own prayers.   

"Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.  Remember when you're talking to the man upstairs that just because He doesn't answer doesn't mean He don't care.  Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." -from Garth Brooks' Unanswered Prayers

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Time for Good-Byes

Another school year came to an end this past Friday - my 27th one to be exact.  It doesn't seem possible that I've been teaching for that long.  Looking back I see just how fast the time has flown.  So much has happened in my life both professionally and personally.  Every year has been different - some better than others, some worse for a variety of reasons.  This year was by far one of the best.  I had a great group of children that I grew very attached to.  I am truly going to miss them all.  Friday was an exciting but also emotional day.  There were tears - some from students, some from teachers.  The students I taught will be moving on to the intermediate school next year, and I won't see many of them again.  So Friday was truly a day of good-byes.

I realized this weekend that it is time for another good-bye.  Eddie died a little over three years ago, and I know now that it is time to let go.  I've had two black boxes tucked on the back of a shelf for the past three years.  They contain the pictures that were used in the memorial video, the guest book of those who attended the visitation or the funeral, the obituary, the funeral program, copies of posts from the on-line guest book, the rose I took from the blanket of flowers, and the sympathy cards I received afterwards.  I've never opened either of those boxes until now.  I took them out this morning, wiped the dust away, and went through each of them.  As I took the items out I noticed that without even realizing it I had placed everything in the boxes face down - every picture, every card, every note.  I looked at all of the pictures, started to count the cards but stopped at 150, and randomly chose a card here and there to reread.  There were only two things that made me cry - the letter Trey wrote to Eddie and read at the funeral and a poem (quoted at the bottom) posted on-line from a friend.  When I finished looking at everything I carefully replaced the items in the boxes - face up. I returned the boxes to the shelf, but now they are in the front rather than the back.  There's no longer any need or reason to keep them hidden.

We said an initial good-bye to Eddie when we laid him to rest, but that good-bye didn't include any form of acceptance that he was really gone.  This one does.  I know and accept now that he's gone and never coming back.  I still don't fully understand what he did or why, but I've accepted that it was his choice, not mine.  I'll never forget Eddie or our life together.  They are a part of who and what I am today.  I will treasure the time we had and focus on the good memories.  His suicide changed the course of my life, but the new course doesn't have to be a bad one.  It can be whatever I choose, and I choose for it to be positive.  I will honor Eddie's memory by going on with my life and being happy, because I believe that's what he would want for me.   

There is a Reason for Everything - Helen Steiner Rice

God never hurts us needlessly and He never wastes our pain;
For every loss He sends us is followed by rich gain.
And when we count the blessings that God has so freely sent,
We will find no cause for murmuring and no time to lament.
For our Father loves His children and to Him all things are plain;
He never sends us pleasure when the soul's deep need is pain.
So whenever we are troubled and when everything goes wrong,
It is just God working in us to make our spirits strong."

On-line post from a friend:
"A million times we've thought of you, and a million times we've cried.
If our love alone could have saved you, you never would have died.
In life we loved you dearly, in death we love you still.
In our hearts you hold a special place, no one else can ever fill.
It broke our hearts to lose you, but you didn't go alone.
A part of us went with you, the day that you went home."
Author Unknown

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What it Means to be a Mother

"A woman who has given birth to a child, a female parent" - these are among the first dictionary definitions for the word mother.  Obviously they don't even begin to touch the true meaning of the word.  As a verb it means "to take care of" and as an adjective "that carries another or others."  These are a little better but still not quite complete.  If you read further down the list of definitions the figurative meaning is "the largest and most perfect example."  This one says it all about what a mother is or should at least try to be.  I am lucky enough to still have not only my mother but also my grandmother in my life.  They have been through more than their share of hardships and difficult times, but they remain shining examples for others.  Both have a strong faith in God and a determination to live their lives in a way that benefits others.  They are the best examples I could possibly have for being a mother myself. 

While I don't even pretend to think that I have been the kind of mother that my mother and grandmother are, I have tried to learn from them.  I hope that I, along with both of them, have in some way shown Trey what it means to take care of and to be there for others.  For a time after Eddie died, I know I wasn't what Trey needed me to be, but thankfully my mother was there to step in and fill the void.  Now that I'm "back on my feet" I plan to always be there for Trey and to help him in any way that I can.  I know that I can never be "the most perfect example," but I will be the best example I possibly can.

This is my fourth Mother's Day since Eddie's death.  I will always think of him on this day, just as I will always think of him on Father's Day, because we are Trey's parents.  Having a child with someone creates a bond that exists even after death.  Eddie's no longer here to be a parent to Trey, and while I know I can't replace him, I'll do my best to fill that void for Trey.

                          What is a Mother?
It takes a mother's love to make a house a home -
A place to be remembered no matter where we roam.
It takes a mother's patience to bring a child up right
And her courage and her cheerfulness to make a dark day bright.
It takes a mother's thoughtfulness to mend the heart's deep hurts
And her skill and her endurance to mend little socks and shirts.
It takes a mother's kindness to forgive us when we err,
To sympathize in trouble, and to bow her head in prayer.
It takes a mother's wisdom to recognize our needs
And to give us reassurance by her loving words and deeds.
-Helen Steiner Rice

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Love Like That

Several weeks ago I attended a presentation of "Good Night Gracie" at a theater downtown.  I go to these shows/plays every couple of months with a group of my friends and always look forward to what's coming up next.  I honestly wasn't excited about seeing this one though for several reasons.  I knew who George Burns was, but I was only familiar with him from a few of his later movies.  I knew he was married to Gracie Allen, but their television show went off years before I was born.  I don't think I've ever even seen a rerun of it anywhere.  Although I remembered thinking Burns was very funny when I saw him on television or in a movie, I wasn't sure how funny the person portraying him would be.  The main reason though was that it was a one-man show, and I just didn't think one person talking for two hours would be that entertaining.

I couldn't have been more wrong about the show.  The person portraying George Burns did an outstanding job.  He had his looks, speech, and mannerisms down perfectly.  After a short time it was as if we were actually watching Burns.  He told the story of his life from the time of his childhood until his death.  There were parts of recordings from his radio shows played over the speakers and clips from his television show shown on a large screen which added to the performance.  Throughout the show the one thing that came across clearly was George Burns' love for Gracie Allen.  Even though it wasn't actually Burns talking, I could see, hear, and feel how much he loved Gracie.  He loved her from the time they met and continued to love her long after her death, until the day he died.  At one point in the show George was sitting on a bench in the cemetery talking to Gracie - fifteen years after she had died.  He said he visited her every week to let her know how he was doing and to tell her what was going on his life.  I understood perfectly what he was doing and why.  Even though I don't go every week, I do go to the cemetery to talk to Eddie.  I tell him what I'm doing and what's going on with Trey and Emily.  Sometimes I even take pictures of Emily to show to him so he can see her growing up.

After the show I thought a lot about how special it would be to have a love like that.  I wondered if I personally knew anyone who had experienced that kind of love.  One couple came to mind - my grandparents - Memaw and Papa.  They were married for 58 years, and although my grandfather died in 1992, my grandmother still loves him today.  I know their marriage wasn't perfect or easy (no one's is).  They lived through the Depression and raised five children on a preacher's salary.  They added a second income much later when my grandmother began teaching.  They had their ups and downs just like everyone else, but they worked them out together, and they NEVER gave up. When my grandmother talks about my grandfather, it's obvious how much she still loves him - just like when George talked about Gracie.  When she tells stories about their life she always calls him "Daddy" or "Papa", and to this day she still wears her wedding ring, a symbol of their eternal love. 

I realize that, unfortunately, very few people get to experience that kind of love in their lifetime.  I loved Eddie, and I know he loved me, but I'm not sure it was that kind of love.  I am thankful my grandparents were able to have it - they deserved it more than anyone I know.  I am also thankful that I was able to see it for part of my life and to continue knowing about it today through my grandmother.  Memaw and Papa are shining examples of what true love is - just like George and Gracie.

"Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Learning to Stand

Recently I've become aware of many songs with words so appropriate for what I've experienced that I could have written them myself.  It makes me wonder about the people who actually wrote them -  are they writing from personal experience, did they have a tragedy in their lives, are their words from the heart or just made up in order to entertain others?  Many of these are older songs, so obviously I'm just paying closer attention to music now than in the past.  One  particular song, "Stand" by Rascal Flatts, says exactly how I felt in the beginning and what I've done to get through this as time has gone by. The song begins with  "Like a candle in a hurricane - a picture with a broken frame" which are perfect descriptions of what it was like in the early days following Eddie's death.  It was all I could do to keep myself going.  My life had completely fallen apart and everything both around me and inside of me was broken.  Even though I knew I wasn't, I still felt "alone and helpless".  I was fighting a constant battle to survive, and for a long time I felt as if I were losing the fight.  Everyone kept telling me I would be alright in time, but it was difficult to believe them.

There were many times that I felt I had reached my breaking point, but something inside of me (I'm not sure what) kept me going, no matter how much I wanted to give in.  I didn't believe I had what it took to move on with my life after what happened, but something or someone was always there to push me forward just when I needed it the most.  I spent a lot of time praying for help and asking God why/how this had happened to me.  My prayers weren't always answered immediately, and I never received an answer to the why question.  But I kept asking until eventually I had the strength I needed, and I realized the why didn't matter quite as much anymore.  God seems to know better than we do what we need and when we need it!

Sometime during this past year I finally reached a point where I decided I'd had enough.  I was hurt by what had happened, I still had questions, and I was mad about the whole thing.  Eddie's suicide disrupted my life for a long time and changed the course of it forever.  But I suddenly knew I couldn't let it control me forever or let it define my future.  I made the decision to take back my life before it was too late.  It wasn't as simple as just "shaking it off" like the song says, but it wasn't impossible either.  I started to put my life back together, one piece at the time.  It has been a slow process, and sometimes I wondered if it was worth the effort.  Now I know that it was.  I've learned what I'm "made of" and know that I am strong enough to go on.  It almost scares me to say this, but I think I may actually be happy again.   

"Stand" by Rascal Flatts
You feel like a candle in a hurricane, just like a picture with a broken frame. Alone and helpless like you've lost your fight, but you'll be alright, you'll be alright ... 'Cause when push comes to shove you taste what you're made of. You might bend till you break cause it's all you can take. On your knees you look up decide you've had enough. You get mad, you get strong, wipe your hands, shake it off, then you stand ... Every time you get up and get back in the race, one more small piece of you starts to fall into place.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Love of the Game

Even though I'm "movin on" with my life,  Eddie (and his death) will always be a part of me.  I'll always feel a sense of sadness that he's not here anymore.  I'm sure there will still be times when I get mad about what happened.  I will always wonder what my life would have been like if he had lived.  And I will continue to have regrets - not regrets over what I did or didn't do, but regrets about the things that Eddie isn't here to see and be a part of.  He hurt his family and friends tremendously by taking his own life, but in the long run he hurt himself more than anyone else. He deprived himself of the chance to experience so many things that he would have enjoyed and that would have made him happy and proud.

One of my favorite pictures is of Eddie holding our granddaughter Emily when she wasn't quite a year old.  We were at a softball game where he and Trey had played together on the same team.  She was holding her hand up like she was waving, and he looked so proud.  Emily started going to softball games when she was just a few weeks old.  Before she was old enough to even know what she was doing she would clap her hands and squeal during the games.  When she started using a walker she would roll herself right up to the fence and watch like she knew exactly what was going on.  Now five years later, Emily is playing softball herself.  I've been to her first two games, and the experience was priceless! 

If you've never watched a team of 5-6 year old girls playing softball, you don't know what you're missing.  Competition hasn't become a factor yet, so they're all out there just to have fun, and they provide as much enjoyment for the spectators as they do for themselves ... half of the team going after the ball in the field, running from home to second after a hit, going from third to the dugout when the coach says go home, sitting on the infield building dirt piles, standing on top of home plate when it's time to bat ... all priceless images.  When Emily goes up to bat though, she's very serious.  She has her stance just right, the way her daddy has taught her.  I've watched Trey practice with her in the yard and it's like watching Eddie work with him over 20 years ago.  I can only imagine how much enjoyment Eddie would get out of watching Emily play softball.  He was a great player, he passed his love and talent on to Trey, and now it's being passed on to Emily.  I don't know how long she'll play or what kind of player she'll turn out to be, but this is an experience that Eddie shouldn't be missing.  I'm thankful that I'm able to be a part of it for however long it lasts.

"Maybe we could spend a moment at the end of each day and decide to remember that day - whatever may have happened - as a day to be grateful for.  In so doing we increase our heart's capacity to choose joy."  Henri J. M. Nouwen

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Happy New Year

No, I haven't lost my mind.  I know it's not January 1st, the official New Year's Day.  But for the last three years time for me has been measured by how long it's been since Eddie died.  March 16th marked three years since his death, so March 17th was the beginning of a new year for me.  The first year was all about survival ... remember to breathe, try to eat, put one foot in front of the other, make it from one day to the next.  The second year was about restoring some order to my life ... getting back into a routine, staying busy, going back to school, beginning to make some changes around the house.  The third year became more about taking care of myself ... doing things I enjoy, getting out of the house more, reconnecting with old friends, buying things I wanted whether I really needed them or not!

At some point during this past year - though I can't pinpoint just when - I began to come to terms with Eddie's suicide.  I haven't fully accepted it (and I may not ever), but I know now I can live with it.  I know what happened, even though I don't understand it.  I know I couldn't have done anything to stop it, but I still wish I could have.  I will always have questions, but I know I'll never get answers to them.  What happened had a profound effect on me, and I will be a different person the rest of my life because of it.  

Now as the fourth year begins, I don't have any major resolutions.  Finishing my specialist's degree (which I should do in October) is at the top of my list.  I plan to continue going out with my friends and spending time with my family.  We'll make our yearly trip to the beach this summer - maybe I'll even find time to go more than once this year.  I'm looking forward to a reunion with some of my best friends from college.  I don't really need anything else for myself or the house, but if I see something I like I'll probably get it.  I plan to look more towards the future and not dwell on the events of the past.  I can retire from teaching in just three years, so it's not too early to start thinking about that!  I don't know what the future holds, or even what it is that I want to do with my life from here, but I do know that I can do whatever I want whenever I want.  I'm back to living my life one day at a time again - the difference is that now it's because I want to, not because I have to.

"I'm Movin' On" by Rascal Flatts (2001)

I've dealt with my ghosts and faced all my demons, finally content with a past I regret.  I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness, for once I'm at peace with myself.  I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long ... I'm movin' on ... At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me, and I know there's no guarantees, but I'm not alone.  There comes a time in everyone's life when all you can see are the years passing by, and I've made up my mind that those days are gone ... I've loved like I should but lived like I shouldn't.  I had to lose everything to find out.  Maybe forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road ... I'm movin' on.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Right Thing at the Right Time

A few days ago I posted this quote on my Facebook page - "It's funny how day by day nothing changes, but after a while when you look back - everything is different."  I don't know who said or wrote this, but it is definitely true.  With the exception of a few days when something specific happened during the last three years, it really doesn't seem like much changed on a day to day basis.  But when I look back at the three years as a whole I realize just how much has changed and how different my life is now.  Many of the people (family and friends) and the physical aspects (house and job) have stayed the same, but my feelings, attitudes, goals, and relationships have changed.  I remember the past and think about the future differently now.  

After Eddie's death I heard all of the usual words from well-meaning people ... it will get better with time, time heals all wounds, it will get easier, there is an end to grief ... I didn't believe or even want to hear these things.  Surprisingly, though, those people were right and their words have (gradually) proven to be true.  Without realizing it at some point the initial gut-wrenching pain I experienced came to an end.  The days of feeling like I couldn't even breathe went away.  The constant ache in my chest eased.  The mornings of not wanting to open my eyes disappeared.  Very slowly and over a long period of time, healing has eventually started to take place.  That doesn't mean I never have feelings of pain, sorrow, or regret when I think about what happened.  I still miss Eddie and think about him every day.  The difference now is that the negative feelings come and go more quickly, and the bad memories are slowly being replaced by good ones.  "The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end." Isaiah 60:20

I realized just how much better things were when I cleaned out "the closet" a few weeks ago.  This was the closet in the guest room where my mother had moved Eddie's clothes to a few weeks after he died.  I had known for a long time that I needed to do something with those clothes, but I hadn't been able to make myself take care of it.  In some way knowing they were there gave me a feeling of security.  I didn't do it often, but I knew that if I wanted to I could go in there and look at them or touch them.  In a small way having them here was like having a part of Eddie with me.  I finally decided that it would be better for someone else to benefit from them though, so I cleaned out the closet and took everything to a homeless shelter.  Some of the clothes brought back specific memories that made me smile or even laugh as I took them out of the closet - the collection from his sweater-vest phase, the brown suede coat that he thought he looked so good in but that I couldn't stand, the western style shirts he was sure he wanted but then never wore, and the Carhaart overalls that really emphasized his ample "backside" (which everyone teased him about).  Cleaning out the closet and loading everything into the back of my car wasn't nearly as hard as I had anticipated.  I knew as I was doing it that it was the right thing at the right time.  The only difficult part was leaving the clothes at the shelter.  While I knew they would help someone else more than they helped me, giving them away was like losing another piece of Eddie.  Thankfully, the feeling of sadness passed and was replaced with good feelings for having done something for someone else and for taking yet another step toward healing.

"There's no thrill in easy sailing when the skies are clear and blue.  There's no joy in merely doing things which anyone can do.  But there is some satisfaction that is mighty sweet to take, when you reach a destination that you never thought you'd make." -Unknown

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Wish

I watched the movie Courageous this afternoon.  It was a funny, sad, touching, and inspirational story that made me laugh as well as cry.  It left me wanting to be not only a better parent but a better person. Although its message was aimed specifically at fathers, I believe it applies to all parents.  As I watched the movie I couldn't help but think about Trey and the fact that he no longer has his father here.  I know he was 25 when Eddie died, and that's older than some children are when they lose a parent, but I don't think we're ever ready no matter how old we are and certainly not in the way Trey lost his.  We look to our parents for guidance, love, and acceptance.  We rely on them for support and encouragement.  They are supposed to be there for us, protect us, answer our questions, and make everything alright.  They're supposed to take care of us when we're sick, comfort us when we're hurt, and listen to our problems.  They're not supposed to be the cause of our pain.   

Most of the blogs that I've written have focused on how Eddie's death affected me and how I handled it.  I haven't written much about how it affected Trey, and I haven't written anything about how he has handled it.  As I've said before, I read every book I could find on suicide, met regularly with a preacher, went for professional counseling, and even saw a psychiatrist.  I encouraged Trey to talk to someone, to get whatever help he needed, but I never pressured him to do these things.  I know everyone deals with things differently, and I wanted him to handle the situation however he felt was best.  But I also know that as a survivor it is a constant fight to put the pieces of our lives back together and to reestablish who we are.  I hope that in his own way Trey has been able to do this.  He seems to be very happy with his life right now ... he has a beautiful daughter, a good job, a house, and a steady girlfriend.

I'm sure that like me, Trey isn't "over" what happened - we may never be.  In his book Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors Dr. Edward Dunne writes "Suicide destroys the original fabric of the family, forcing a reintegration of the survivors. The pace at which individual family members are ready and able to do this will vary."  As he moves on with his life, I hope Trey is able to remember the good times with his father.  I want him to realize that despite the circumstances he learned lessons from Eddie, both good and bad.  I hope he finds positive meaning in the relationship they shared and that he carries that with him throughout his life.

"I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow and each road leads you where you want to go. And if you're faced with the choice and you have to choose, I hope you choose the one that means the most to you. And if one door opens to another door closed I hope you keep on walkin' til you find the window ... I hope you never look back but you never forget all the ones who love you and the place you left. I hope you always forgive and you never regret and you help somebody every chance you get. Oh you'd find God's grace in every mistake and always give more than you take ... My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to. Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small, you never need to carry more than you can hold. And while you're out there gettin where you're gettin to I hope you know somebody loves you and wants the same things too. Yeah this is my wish ..."

My Wish by Rascal Flatts

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Need for Control

My family and close friends love to tease me about having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I'll admit that I do have some of the behaviors associated with OCD:  spending a lot of time washing or cleaning, ordering or arranging things "just so," feeling that everything must be lined up "just right".  Yes, my shoes are arranged by color in boxes on shelves in my closet.  My clothes are grouped by short sleeved shirts, long sleeved shirts, pants, sweaters, and dresses.  The pictures on my refrigerator are in magnetic pockets lined up evenly across both doors.  The cans and boxes in my cabinet are lined up by height with the labels facing forward.  I constantly straighten pictures on the wall and move things an inch this way or that on shelves and tables.  Before I leave my classroom each day I put everything on my desk in neat stacks and straighten all of the student desks and chairs back into rows.  I have what some might consider an unnatural need to control everything around me.  (Now that I've written it down - maybe I'm worse than I thought!)

I wasn't always this extreme with my need to control everything though.  It started during the last few years of my marriage and intensified following Eddie's death.  After several years of living with Eddie's drinking, I had to accept that I didn't have any control over what he was doing.  Eventually I reached a point where I didn't feel like I had control over much of anything in my life, so I found something I could control - the order of "stuff" around me.  When I got upset with Eddie or was worried about him or wondering where he was, I would clean, straighten, or rearrange things around the house to occupy and calm myself.  After his suicide, which was another thing I had to accept that I didn't have any control over, I found myself becoming more "obsessed" with keeping the things around me in order.  The events of my life over the past years have been so chaotic, I 've had to restore order in whatever ways I can find.  As a result, I have a need to "fix" things now - to have everything correct or perfect in order to feel comfortable, safe, and in control of my life.

My need for order and perfection may make some people uncomfortable, and if it does I apologize, but it has helped me to relieve some of the frustration at being powerless over the events in my life.  I will never "get over" everything that has happened, but I am getting through it.  Maybe my need to be in total control will lessen with time.  Maybe I will eventually be able to relax and let go.  But for now the order I've restored to my life is making it possible for me to move forward.  Maybe a little OCD isn't such a bad thing after all.    

"The closest to being in control we will ever be is in that moment that we realize we're not."  Brian Kessler

"Control is never achieved when sought after directly.  It is the surprising outcome of letting go."  James Arthur Ray

Friday, February 3, 2012

Learning to Live Again: The Healing Power of Friendship and Laughter

During the first year following Eddie's death, I struggled to find ways to enjoy myself or things to be happy about.  There were times when I laughed briefly or felt a little happiness for short periods, but nothing that lasted.  I was surviving but not really living.  Things took a definite turn for the better however one weekend in June 2010.  That was when I made a big step on my road to recovery by taking a trip with three of my good friends, Janie, Peggy, and Susie.  Janie had bid on and won a discount package to a resort in Panama City.  I was reluctant when she first asked me to go because it meant leaving on Father's Day, and I wasn't sure about not being with Trey that day.  When I told him about it, though, he insisted that he would be okay and I should go, so I finally agreed.

Janie and Susie rode together and left Sunday morning.  I waited until Peggy got out of church and rode with her so she wouldn't have to make the trip alone.  Normally when I go to the beach, I'm on a mission to get there as quickly as possible.  I only stop when absolutely necessary and have occasionally made the trip without stopping at all.  It never occurred to me that anyone did it any differently ... until I rode with Peggy.   We made frequent stops along the way - stops to get something to drink, then stops to go "potty" because we had stopped to get something to drink.  We also took the "scenic" route to Panama City - I saw small, out-of-the-way places in Florida that I never even knew existed.  This included an outlet mall where we stopped to shop for tennis shoes and to browse in a paper store for things we didn't need but that might be on sale.  I have to admit that after about five hours I began to wonder if we were really going to the beach!  I really enjoyed the time with Peggy though and wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.  We did a lot of talking and even more laughing which I soon realized was going to be the norm for the next couple of days.

When we got close to Panama City we called Janie and Susie to let them know we were almost there.  They were shopping and asked if we wanted them to pick up anything for us.  I told them I would like a bottle of White Zinfindel wine if they didn't mind getting it.  They stayed on the phone while they walked around the store looking for it.  After a few minutes they told us they were looking at some wine that said White Zinfindel on the bottle but they didn't think that could be what I wanted because it was pink!  Needless to say that brought quite a bit of laughter from both Peggy and me, and we didn't let them live it down anytime soon.  We hadn't even arrived at the resort and I had already laughed more that day than I had laughed in an entire year.  I decided agreeing to this trip had definitely been the right decision. 

The talking, fun, and laughter continued throughout the trip.  It didn't matter where we were - in the room, by the pool, in the car, at a restaurant - we constantly found something to laugh about.  On our second day, Susie and I took a ferry to Shell Island while Janie and Peggy went shopping.  We looked like the typical tourists lugging our chairs, beach bags, and coolers across the bridge to the beach side of the island.  We set up right on the edge of the water, sat in our chairs, talked, ate, drank, read, and relaxed.  We totally lost track of time.  After a while Susie and I both looked around and realized we were the only ones on the beach.  Everyone who had ridden over on the ferry with us was gone!  There was a second of panic thinking we might actually be stranded before we saw the next load of people from the boat coming across the bridge.  Of course Janie and Peggy got a big kick out of that story when we got back to the hotel. 

That night after dinner I decided to take a walk down the pier.  No one else really wanted to go, so I went by myself.  By this point doing things alone definitely didn't bother me, but (thankfully) my friends cared about my safety.  Before I left they made sure I had my cell phone with me and made me promise to get back to the hotel before it got dark.  Of course I didn't get back "on time" and as soon as it started to get dark my phone rang - it was Janie, standing on the balcony of our room, checking to make sure I was alright.  If it had been my mother checking on me I probably would have been aggravated, but because it was a friend it was somehow okay.

I took my share of "ribbing" on the trip, especially from Susie.  I've never been one who was able to get ready quickly and Susie enjoyed making an issue of this.  She teased me every time we had to get ready to go somewhere.  She claimed she could shower, dry her hair, iron her clothes, and get dressed before I ever got out of the shower.  I had to agree that I would stop getting ready when everyone else was finished, even it meant I only had make-up on half of my face!  I told them if it didn't bother them it wouldn't bother me (yeah - right).

The trip was over way too quickly.  For the first time in over a year I had genuinely relaxed and enjoyed myself.  If I had a "bucket list" I could have easily marked off one thing - to laugh until I cry.  I learned something very important during those three days and nights ... I didn't just want to survive, I wanted to live again.  Thank you Janie, Peggy, and Susie - I love you!

"Heart Gifts" by Helen Steiner Rice
It's not the things that can be bought
That are life's richest treasures,
It's just the little "heart gifts"
That money cannot measure.
A cheerful smile, a friendly word,
A sympathetic nod,
Are priceless little treasures
From the storehouse of our God.
They are the things that can't be bought
With silver or with gold,
For thoughtfulness and kindness
And love are never sold.
They are the priceless things in life
For which no one can pay,
And the giver finds rich recompense
In giving them away.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Making a House a Home

About a year after Eddie's death, I decided it was time to make some changes to the house.  Up until then, I had left everything exactly as it was when Eddie was alive.  We built the house in 1989 and it had been our home for 20 years.  During the first year after his death I didn't feel right about changing anything - it seemed like I would have been betraying him in some way.  In time though I realized that if I was going to stay in the house I had to make it more mine and less ours.  It wasn't that I wanted to get rid of memories of Eddie or to do away with things that he liked.  I just needed to change things so the house would reflect me instead of us. 

The original wallpaper in the kitchen and both bathrooms came down and was replaced with brown and green paint.  I changed throw rugs throughout the house, rearranged furniture, and put up new curtains.  I bought new wall pictures for every room and put out lots of flower arrangements and candles.  I think I personally kept Pier I, Kirklands, and Kohls in business for a few months!  I felt a little twinge of regret each time I removed something old, but I also felt a sense of hope when I added something new.  I became a little more comfortable in the house with every change.  In time it began to feel like a home again - my home. 

I've continued to make changes over the past two years.  I gave Eddie's big leather recliner to Trey and replaced it with a smaller one more suited to me.  The deer head that hung over our fireplace for 20 years is now proudly displayed in Trey's home.  I've replaced the stove and dishwasher in the kitchen and the television in the living room.  I have a dinette set in the kitchen and a living room table that my grandmother gave me, and I kept an antique secretary and grandfather clock that belonged to Eddie's grandparents. 

Now I have a good mixture of items that represent both the past and the present.  My home is a combination of what was his, what was ours, and what is now mine.  I replaced material things, but the memories will always be here.  The big difference is that I have something I can be comfortable with.  What was just a house for the first year after Eddie died is once again a home. 

"Memories are treasures that time cannot destroy.  They are the happy pathway to yesterday's bright joy."
-Helen Steiner Rice