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.