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Sunday, December 7, 2014

dealing with loss (and finding magic at Christmas)

 

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This really happened.

One minute I was sitting across from a beautiful woman at a candle-lit table in a seaside restaurant and she was telling me about her adult daughter’s wonderful new job in finance, and she was beaming with the kind of relieved, grateful expression that mothers wear when things are going well with their children.

And the next day her daughter was found dead in her apartment.

We found out about this tragic news from a company email that was sent throughout my husband’s bank and my first stunned reaction was, “What? How can that be?! We were just talking about her last night!”

But of course, this is what we do when death and reasoning collide, we grasp and claw at logic, desperate for answers that might slow the flow of shock and pain pulsating through us.

But this is not my story.

The story I want to tell you happened this past Saturday-- 700 miles from my home-- on a sun-drenched afternoon in Salt Lake City Utah.

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(cell phone picture)

Jim and I had flown into town for the bank’s annual Christmas party and while the hubby was in meetings, I grabbed my coat and began walking in the cold, brisk air in search of some pretty ribbon and a Christmas card for the woman who had lost her daughter.

This would be her first Christmas without her precious Megan and I wanted to acknowledge it with a note. I didn’t know this woman intimately, we saw each other through my husband’s work but she was a sensitive person, a fellow ‘feeler’ whom I could always relate to and I had been deeply affected by her daughter’s death.

This would be the first time I’d be seeing her since that dinner a few months ago and I had written down a few words I planned on passing to her in a card that evening.

Years ago when I had been in a dark period of grief I had read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s diaries (Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead) and I had found tremendous comfort in her views on grieving. They were based on her own excruciating loss of her child and I often seek inspiration from people who have endured suffering and heartache and have come out the other side.  Some books can be bottled up in a few potent pages and for me, there were seven pages that I had marked up with a pen and re-read endless times because they resonated with my own suffering

Lindbergh spoke of the numbing and grief that happens after death and the eventual re-birth that can follow the darkness. She described the loss of someone we deeply love as a kind of amputation—”like a lost limb down to the nerve endings.” And she wrote about Remorse—beating oneself in a vain attempt to make what has happened “un-happen,” as a cautionary dead end. A kind of fake action that can never nourish and only deplete you.

At the time, these were words I needed to hear.

In my note to this grieving mother I had shared an Anne Morrow Lindbergh quote and I remember wondering if I should have bought her the same book, but it was a hard book to find and I’d had to special order mine. Too late now.

As I walked on the bustling downtown streets of Salt Lake City I was struck by its baby blue skies and its clean beauty and I was momentarily lost in my thoughts, not even caring if I got lost. Which is unlike me.

 

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After stopping on the sidewalk to ask directions to a “shop with pretty ribbon” I ended up at this street corner and I was abruptly taken aback by this gorgeous mural of the Blessed Mother. If you know me, you know how I feel about HER and the divine power of her love, especially as a source of comfort for mothers.

And suddenly I felt like I was on the right path.

I kept moving down the street until I approached a stack of books in a gray metal cart outside a dusty, stained glass window. And when I stepped back I squinted my eyes in the bright sunlight and read the words.

Rare. Books.

Unbelievable, I thought.

 

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(cell phone)

I had no idea where I was but I had just stumbled unto my version of heaven.

 

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(cell phone)

I opened the door and felt instantly transported to someplace ancient and magical. Besides two bearded men talking about authors over a glass case of yellowed, delicate-looking books, I was alone in the store.

The sight of a worn, blue velvet couch, mountains of books and the musty smells of antiquity all made my heart flutter.

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(cell phone)

In the narrow aisles I ran my fingers along the worn, rippled spines of hard cover books looking at the titles I recognized from childhood. When I saw a copy of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm I casually picked it up and found this inscription inside:

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(cell phone)

And I wondered if Michele had liked this book too. Was she still alive and reading?

I liked to think so.

 

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(cell phone)

After some time I asked the store clerk if he had any books by Anne Lindbergh Morrow and he sent me down a long aisle at the far end of the store

where I bent down to the lowest shelf and tilted my head to examine the titles.

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(cell phone)

And of course.

Wouldn’t you know it?

There were only two titles by Lindbergh and yes, one was the book I wanted.

What were the odds?

As I stared at the book I felt something serendipitous about my afternoon; it was fleeting thought that by being completely open to my surroundings--and in a giving state of mind—it had somehow resulted in my holding this book in my hands, and even though I seldom use this word,

‘grace’ came to mind. I figured that I was meant to pass on the book, but more important was the message I hoped to convey to this mother.

The idea that we are all connected through our wounds and that sometimes this shared pain is all we have to offer someone who is hurting. But is there a more comforting message than this:

You’re not alone my friend.

No, I’ve never lost a child but I do know what it’s like to love one with every breath in your body. And I can imagine your pain, and I’m not afraid of it.

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If you’re dealing with loss and sadness this holiday season this post is dedicated to You.

Please believe me, it will get better. Really it will.

But until then, these are a few things that helped me when I was once overwhelmed with grief.

First and foremost life is too short to fake it.

Give yourself permission to cry, to be sad, confused, or angry.

Absolutely DO NOT judge yourself.

Write down your thoughts and feelings. It’s amazing what comes out.

Grab your coat and get outside and start walking. I guarantee the fresh air will help.

Whatever your spiritual beliefs, find time to meditate or pray or simply sit in silence, this is how you honor your most vulnerable feelings.

Listen to a comforting tape of Tara Brach on Loss.

Volunteer-don’t worry about the cause just get around other people for a common purpose.

Be selective about your sharing. Talk to those special people in your life who will let you  feel exactly how you feel--- and won’t try to minimize or deny your emotions. This is how we get through our pain in a healthy way. Be curious and open about those shadow feelings that might be uncomfortable. Because you deserve to feel whole.

And if you want me to send my favorite Lindbergh passage on grief.. leave me your address and I’d be happy to send it to you.

And one more thing--if your grief begins to overwhelm you—please don’t hesitate to get professional help. Walking around with a tight smile while you’re hurting inside will take a physical and emotional toll on you. And sometimes a death can unleash bottled up feelings that a trained professional can help you make sense of…

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In the meantime, let’s all remember that Christmas is a time of rich memories which can cut both ways. We can feel those losses in our life more acutely.

Let’s be careful that we don’t get so caught up in the festivities of the season that we forget those around us who might be quietly suffering.

 

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Tell me…

Can you relate to this post?

 

xo

Leslie

 

linking up with Flower Patch Farm Girl and Inspire Me Monday

 

 

 

 

28 comments:

Lynne (lynnesgiftsfromtheheart) said...

Thank you sooooo very much for this. This is my first Christmas without Mr. P our anniversary 4 short days later. Your kind words of wisdom truly touched me. I would love to have the verse you're talking about.. God Bless you and your friend fondly ~lynne~

Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces said...

You spoke to me with this post, too...it is my first Christmas without my father and last year I traveled to share his last Christmas. He has been gone 7 months now, and I know I am changed by his passing...but I feel his presence every day. xoxo

Vickie @ Ranger 911 said...

At this time of year, I can't help but think of mothers dealing with the loss or illness of a child. It's been 15 years since my sister-in-law told us on Christmas Eve that her cancer was back and there was nothing else her doctors could do for her. I watched my mother-in-law die from a broken heart. She was a woman with a very strong faith, but she just couldn't get over the loss of a beloved child. Thank you, Leslie, for the reminder to do something special for those who've suffered the loss of a loved one.
Vickie

Jennifer Connolly said...

I simply can not fathom loosing my daughter. My mind shuts down and my chest cramps. My thoughts and prayers go out to that woman.
This is a very tough time of year for many people...without loosing a loved one.
Thank you for this lovely,heartfelt post.

Blondie's Journal said...

As always, your posts leave me at a loss for words because I can't possibly word things in a cohesive way after reading. So much sadness for your friend and her loss. So much admiration for you understanding loss and the grieving process. I have had SO much loss in my family in the past 10 years, it was like a tsunami of deaths at once. I tend to hold things in. I think someday I will just burst. And in the case of one of my children and my husband...I just don't know where I would be.

I pray for your friend and thank you for your wisdom.

Jane xxx

Andi's English Attic said...

A wonderful story. A hand was guiding you, for sure. xx

Kristi said...

Your blog is always like a breath of fresh air. My heart breaks for your friend's daughter. And you have a way with words that soothes us. I've been absent from the blog world, but glad I stopped by today!
Kristi

Karen said...

Leslie,
Your way with words and the story they weave always leaves me feeling enlightened. I was touched to tears at your shared story of the woman who lost her daughter. This has happened to a couple of friends throughout the years and every mother can relate to that particular loss. Thank you for taking the time to extend your understanding and comfort to those that may not be having quite the merry Christmas season we all wish for friends and family.
xo,
Karen

Dayle said...

I just ordered the Anne Morrow Lindbergh book on Amazon, as she is one of my favorite authors and wrote my favorite book, "Gift from the Sea."

Great post and helpful.

Vannessa@Luxuria said...

OMG!!! What a beautiful post. You were clearly being "led" to that book for your friend. "Someone" clearly wanted her to read it.
I lost my Mum when she was only 49 and I was only 23 and Christmas was the most painful time for me. I also heard a very sad story just yesterday about death (someone who was again very young). It certainly puts some of the Christmas "manic-ness" into perspective x

Cindy Hattersley said...

Leave it to you Leslie to think of those that are suffering this time of year. Anyone that can call you a friend is very lucky. You are the most thoughtful person in the universe.

Joanne Nauta-Koot said...

Thank you for sharing this. It truly helps me at this very moment. My mother died 5 months ago, and my mother inlaw is dying at this moment. I am struggling with the emotions of it all, espcially during this holiday season. I have printed out this message from you, so I can re-read it as I need reassurance and comfort during these difficult times. Your gift for coming with the right words, at the right moment, have happened again. I am ever grateful.

Tamera Beardsley said...

First off my dear … I just love you. Your ability to connect and convey deep emotion … always speaks to my soul.

Having had in the past … my own bouts of grief … this post resonates with me to my core.

I have also learned … sometimes out of deep pain … there can eventually a clearing where more beauty can be seen. i have come to realize … at this age … I most of the times can feel more than one emotion. Sometimes … it can be the feelings of loss … that open me up … to experience the tremendous beauty in a moment.

Thank you my dear … for being a light … and sharing such grace and beauty … during a time … as you beautifully said … can cut both ways.

I send you much love and appreciation.

xoxo
Tamera

Heather Lindstrom said...

Leslie dear, I am so moved by your story. Following your heart to exactly where you needed to be and what you needed to find. You share your wisdom so eloquently. I feel you and I are kindred spirits in this way. Thank you for your kindest words on my blog today. They were JUST the words I needed to hear. As you know I've dealt with miscarriages and the loss of my during previous holiday seasons so I understand the quality of bittersweet that can creep in. I am so very sorry for the loss your friend experienced. What a gift are you and your loving heart to her. By the way, the middle name of our first baby was to be 'Grace'. Thank you for sharing this most thoughtful post. Yes, we will most definitely meet some day. :)
xx, Heather

Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours said...

Leslie, this is such a poignant post. I have never lost a child, but I have walked through deep grief—and walked alongside others on their grief journeys. Your words are full of grace, encouragement, and truth. What a "God thing" that you found the book in time to share it with your friend. My prayers are with her family. I'm so glad you didn't shy away from "doing the awkward" but moved toward her even in her grief. I know she was blessed by your friendship.

Donna@anangloinquébec said...

Leslie, thank you for this. It is so real and so important. We get caught up in the decorating, the baking, the parties and it is only once you stop and think about those around you that are hurting. It is so easy to do so but it is just as easy to do something to help them on their journey. I have felt so fortunate in my own family but I do have people close to me that have suffered the loss of children taken too early or cancer erasing the life of someone dear to them. A great reminder.

alittlecape said...

Thanks, Leslie, for a great and timely post. Our first Christmas here in a not quite finished house (in the trailer still) and I am finding this Chrstmas is tough. The places and people are totally changed for the first time in 12 years. I am feeling it deeply to be away from my son and friends I cherish. I know this is also an opportunity to start new ways of celebrating and finding community. I can't feel or even imagine this woman's pain and loss. I pray she finds her way through a very difficult time. So sad. It's good to read you found the book, Anne Morrow Lindeberg writes so poignantly about real life, I hope this lady finds comfort in her words. I have. Patty/NS

Something Nice and Pretty said...

Mom has been gone 13 years last month, so much has happened since then and I miss her so. I know she is happy so that makes it a little easier but I did grieve for her for a while but know she wouldn't want that for me. Thanks so much for the great post!

Sarah said...

Leslie, I can most certainly relate to this post. With the loss I've faced in the past year, I'm trying my best to concentrate on gratitude during the holidays. Reflecting upon all the joy my mother, aunt, and close friend gave to me throughout the years continues to fill my heart with gratitude. I smile as I linger beside the tree, knowing which ornaments hold the most special memories. I was blessed to have these women in my life. My heart aches that they are no longer physically here, but it also feels their love.
Thanks for a thoughtful, timely post.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Beautifully written Leslie. And I KNEW you were going to find that book. Yes your post speaks to me. Tomorrow I'm going to visit my aunt in London who lost her son in a car accident we had in Sydney in 1978 and it will be terribly sad. I always think he is hovering behind us, always has been, all these long years.
Xxcat

Catherine Robinson said...

With every beat of my heart. Leslie...my beloved Dad passed away 3 years ago this christmas and I miss him so much still...your post is so beautiful and sensitively written and I would very much like you to send me the quote...
my email is catherine@catherinerobinsoncashmere.com
To lose a child must be unbearable your friend is in my prayers.
Wishing you and your family a very happy christmas and peaceful new year...with my love xx

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

So piercingly beautiful.
You share your story with such heart. Isn't it amazing the way God uses our broken pieces?
Thanks so much for sharing.

Gypsy Heart said...

Well, I'm sitting here in tears...and that's ok. Loss is huge in my life ~ not just because of Abby but a few other things. D, my first love, passed away on the 4th after a very short illness. There were circumstances all these years that did not permit us to be together. So many things I wanted to say to him...and probably the same from him to me. I almost, almost called him recently and didn't. That makes me feel sad that I didn't take that step. The visitation for him is tomorrow evening and the service is Thursday morning. I just can't do it! I haven't been to a funeral since Abby's service and I don't mean to be disrespectful to the family. I know it's not about me but there are a few other reasons too.

Long story short, thank you so very much for sharing this and for your kind and wise words. I'd love to have the passage from the book. I posted this on Facebook and will also share with you ~ a bit of "Some people will like you for no reason, some people synchronicity...

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic—the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
~ Charles de Lint

xo
Pat

Gypsy Heart said...

P.S. My prayers are with your friend in the loss of her daughter. It's just not the pattern of life and this type of loss is almost unbearable.

xo
Pat

auntp said...

Thank you for writing and sharing this post. Obviously it strikes a chord to hearts of many of your readers. Once again, your story proves there is no such thing as a coincidence:) I love Anne Morrow Lindberg's writings and will be looking for my own copy of the book you mentioned.
Paula

Carla from The River said...

Dear Leslie,
Thank you for this post. Our family is dealing with the loss of our Grandma and my dad is not feeling well at this time. Very hard for my mom, because she lost her mom and now my dad, is not feeling well.
Thank you for the honesty about life. And the encouragement.
Carla

simone antoniazzi said...

Such a kind, beautiful & thoughtful post Leslie, I loved reading it....you always have such wisdom & insight into the big issues. Thank you for sharing this Xx

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What a beautifully touching post. I feel that God led you to that very spot you landed in to find a copy of that book. My heart goes out to your friend who lost her daughter.

It's been three years (Dec. 9th) since I lost my dear husband. We were married for 43 years and I miss him daily. At first the grief was almost unbearable, but as time has gone on, God has been my strength and the grief is less. There are still times I cry, but there are times I also laugh. Love is such an amazing thing and it goes on forever. We will be together again one day.

Have a lovely Christmas ~ FlowerLady

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