An Open Letter

IMG_3696_2

Dear Alan,

Tomorrow marks five years since I last saw you and got to speak with you. The morning I left for work you did not feel well, battling what we thought was the flu. I am so sorry we did not know better. We actually talked on the phone just minutes before you apparently departed this world saying we should go to the hospital to check you out when I got home from work.

It is easy to get caught up in the “what ifs” of grief. What if I had left work earlier that day? What if you had gone to the doctor that morning? What if… However I have learned a lot of things during these last five years. I think you would be proud of me, Alan. I wanted to share some of my revelations in an open letter so others might see and be encouraged as they face their own sadness, fear, and grief in saying good-bye to a loved one.

I have learned that even though something hurts so much that you think you might not survive – you can. Those first few hours are still very much of a blur: the wonderful EMTs; the compassionate police, the neighbor who closed up the house, my friends who met me at the hospital and held me through the night when I cried. I remember just enough to still have nightmares and flashbacks at times. So I have stopped trying to relive those hours in order to figure everything out. It does not matter the exactness of my memories. It is enough to know that I did all I could for you and that friends stepped in and were there for me when it counted.

I have learned that while time does not heal all wounds, it does lessen the sharpness of the pain. The moments when I cannot breathe because the agony is too great have passed for the most part. Yet, the tears still flow – maybe more often than others think they should. But that is also something I have learned. No one else gets to tell you how to grieve. The way you mourn and face your sorrow and loss is your own. Be kind and offer grace to yourself as you learn how to live life a new way.

There are no formulas for getting through the death of a loved one. I remember a friend told me that it would take x amount of months to achieve wholeness again because we were married 26 years. I have long since passed that time limit. But I have learned that it is important to give yourself permission to handle grief your own way. As long as progress is being made on your grief journey, you are doing well. Just because someone else may have already moved on to dating and remarriage does not mean that you are failing a task. It simply means your journey is taking a different route.

I learned that I have strength. I also acknowledge that it does not come from within myself, but from God above. Calling and telling our sons of your death was probably the single worse task I have ever had to face. I had others with me at the time who offered to share the words in my place. But those were moments that we would all remember for a lifetime and they needed to come from me. So I did it. The next day it was incredibly difficult to look at pictures of caskets and choose one. Setting up your service was unbelievably hard since we had not once discussed what you would want. You were only 49 years old. Who thinks of those things at that age?

It was ridiculous the amount of time I spent in conversations and engaging in battle for my rights with your former employer to get what was rightfully mine from HR. But through all those conversations I learned that words matter. The way things are said make a difference. Kindness and compassion are missing from this world far too often. I have learned that if you can share these aspects with others, you must do so. You never truly know the path others are walking.

I have learned that having faith before your death, Alan, kept me from despair. While I still cried, was scared beyond comprehension, and required an incredible amount of help and guidance in those first few months, I knew that God was there for me, carrying me when I was too weak to continue on. He allowed me rest from exhaustion after nights of sleeplessness and comfort in the presence of darkness and continual nightmares.

Five years ago tomorrow marks a day that I have come to dread each year. It may be that way for the rest of my life. However, knowing ahead of time that it will be a hard day allows me to prepare for it. Writing an open letter this year has helped me process a little more. Taking the day off work tomorrow is my gift to myself. Sharing my journey with others not only helps me, but I pray provides a source of hope, help, and the beginning to healing that is needed in journeying through grief.

How do you close an open letter written to someone no longer here? I suppose by simply saying I love you still and miss you daily.

Until next time –

Karen

With the holidays approaching, Grief Letters makes the perfect gift for those walking through loss and sadness. This devotion book is filled with lessons learned from my own journey as well as suggested activities written to help achieve forward progress through grief. Place your order today!

ResizeImageHandler.ashx

Grief Letters By Karen Bransgrove, Published by WestBow Press. You can order here.

Hardcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869674

Softcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869667

E-Book | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869650

Also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

“I don’t know how to be this”

IMG_3101

People go through life learning how to do many things. It begins early with a baby learning to crawl, walk, and run. Children are educated to read, write, and work with numbers. Teenagers learn to drive as they gain independence and earn responsibility.

You are often times defined by what you can do. Artists draw and paint; athletics run and work out; teachers educate and share knowledge. There are times though, when we are defined not by what we do, but by what we have become. It is at these moments of definition that we on the grief journey might say, “I don’t know how to be this.”

When Alan died and I was taken back one final time in the emergency room to collect his belongings and leave the hospital, I looked at my friends surrounding me and thought those very words. “I don’t know how to be this.” I don’t know how to be a widow, a single parent, or the sole provider for my family. Suddenly I found myself in a new and frightening position for which there is no real training. Death has a way of leveling the playing field. Mortality stares you in the face and life is deemed short and time fleeting.

Where do you go to learn how to walk through death and sorrow? How do you find a way to deal with the sudden demands of a new way of life? What can you find to hold on to as you feel yourself reeling with shock, fear, and numbness? When you find yourself saying, “I don’t know how to be this” do not give up. Cling to what you know and strive to fight your way to the top as you gasp for air and relief.

You can know that regardless of your loss, you are loved. It may not feel like it in the midst of great pain. Sorrow has a way of momentarily blocking out other emotions. However, hold on to the fact – the truth – that even if no one else is in the room with you, you are never truly alone. God promises to be by your side through thick and thin; in joy or sorrow; today and for all your tomorrows.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39 (NIV)

So how do you get to the point when you can stop saying, “I don’t know how to be this?” Begin learning and walking forward on your grief journey. Join a support group. GriefShare was of great help to me in the early months of facing my loss. Go online and search for a group in your community.

Give yourself permission to realize you are still you and are not just defined by what has happened in your life. Open up and allow others to minister to and care for you. Refuse to give in to the desire to isolate and hide behind closed doors. While time of reflection can be healing, too much time alone can bring detachment and make the loneliness more severe.

It takes work to journey through grief. So when you find yourself saying, “I don’t know how to be this,” do not despair. Education does not happen overnight. Just as you have learned so many skills early on in life, have faith and be assured you can also figure out how to live life a new way and be who you are today.

Until next time –

Karen

Let me encourage you to share Grief Letters with those you know walking through loss and sadness. This devotion book is filled with stories of my own journey as well as suggested activities written to help achieve forward progress through grief.

ResizeImageHandler.ashx

Grief Letters By Karen Bransgrove, Published by WestBow Press. You can order here.

Hardcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869674

Softcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869667

E-Book | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869650

Also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Good-bye to little Lizzie

photo-157

In November I wrote about Lizzie, the fantastic, little Shih Tzu dog. She lived life to the fullest, trusting those who owned and cared for her. Even though her eyesight was challenged, she walked ahead in faith showing joy and contentment in her circumstances – living in a small, love-filled, New York apartment with my son and daughter-in-law.

Two days ago, little Lizzie closed her eyes for the last time. She got really sick and the doctors just couldn’t help her overcome the illness this time. When my son called me Monday morning, sobbing, my heart broke. Both he and his wife loved that little dog. The short time I had with her last year endeared her to me as well. She was good-natured, loving, gentle, and smart.

My son made the comment that it was the small stuff that hurt the worst. He compared missing and saying good-bye to little Lizzie to the grief of losing his dad four years ago. Not being able to pick up the phone and call his dad on the walk home from the subway had hurt deeply. Realizing that there would be no more such conversations would strike him each day as he followed through with his routine. The everyday tasks tend to remind you of your loss at the most unexpected times.

Now as he faces coming home without having Lizzie greet him at the door, he realizes that the little things count. I hear him grieve as he won’t be able to take Lizzie out for her bedtime walk. Sitting and watching TV or working on his computer won’t be interrupted by her little snores as she sleeps nearby.

Facing grief, we prepare for the big things. We expect the special holidays, the birthdays, or anniversaries to be difficult. However, how do you plan for missing someone you love every time you open a door or get ready for bed? How do you guard your heart and mind against the small, frequent moments that occur daily? When will it feel “normal” again to awaken to each new day without the one you have lost?

Saying good-bye to little Lizzie can serve as a reminder that we hurt much because we love much. So embrace the memories you hold. Be glad for the time you had together. Trust that you will make it through the hard times of pain and sadness as you journey through your grief. Strive to lean upon those who are close to you, seeking their support and encouragement. Let others help you as you learn to live after saying good-bye.

Until next time –

Karen

ResizeImageHandler.ashx

Grief Letters By Karen Bransgrove, Published by WestBow Press. You can order here.

Hardcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869674

Softcover | 6 x 9 in | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869667

E-Book | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869650

Also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Life on Paper

ResizeImageHandler.ashx

There are times when I believe life is too powerful, too painful, too genuine, too useful, and too rich not to share it through the written word. By writing down experiences and lessons learned through the ups and downs of life, we ensure that others can benefit from what we have lived through and survived.

I would like to introduce you to my first book, Grief Letters. While I have written devotions and children’s curriculum in the past for a large publishing house as well as for my own church here in Denver, this book has been my biggest writing challenge yet. Placing my life on paper has proven therapeutic even with the pain. Reliving frightening and tragic events from the past four years has been exhausting yet empowering.

My book venture has been full of hope and healing. While placing my life on paper, I have been able to see how God has taken care of me each step of the way. Because of that, I wanted to be able to share my experiences and knowledge with others who may be on a similar journey.

Therefore, if you find yourself struggling with the loss of a loved one – or you are caring for someone who is missing a dear one, this book is for you. Thank you in advance for sharing this new publication with everyone you know. My desire it that my journey not be wasted. I have placed my life on paper so it can be used to guide others in finding hope, help, and healing.

Here is the link to my book page where Grief Letters can be purchased at WestBow Press.

http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Author/Default.aspx?BookworksSId=SKU-000980156

Until next time,

Karen

Cans and Cannots

14430_10152849169308766_4954085384851199922_n

Walking a grief journey has its ups and downs. The lows tend to be deep and many, while the high points seem few and far between. While talking to my sister-in-law today, I realized that the attitude with which we approach our daily challenges either make us or break us. We have the choice to say, “I can do this!” What do you choose when confronted with the cans and cannots in your days?

The voice we hear the most throughout each day is our own. Therefore, we need to be careful with what we are saying and how we are saying it. When faced with hardship it is easy to admit defeat and give up before we even begin. Experiencing loss is not easy. It can be full of long-lasting pain. So how do we deal with it? Is there any point in trying? Will we arrive at a place in the future where we feel better?

Dealing with death and loss is an individual journey. No one can tell you exactly what to do to feel better. Yet, there are things you can do to ensure you continue to move forward in your grief and avoid being stuck while repeating those less than good choices over and over again.

You can realize that you are not alone. Even if you feel you have no other human to talk to, you can speak to God who loves you and cares about you. If you happen to hold anger against God, go ahead and voice that to Him too. He is big and can take the criticism. Work through those feelings. Be open to talking with a church pastor or close friend who can help you see things clearly and give you good advice regarding those harsh feelings.

Another helpful exercise you can do is to journal. Write out your feelings, fears, and questions. Putting conversations on paper that you miss having with your loved one can give you an avenue of expressing yourself. Write a letter to the one who has died. What do you want to say? Placing those words on paper allows you a voice on a dark and often too-quiet journey.

Accepting invitations to get out of the house and keep busy can remove you from the isolating life that grief can impose. You can dictate how you use your time, where you go, and what you do. While it may seem you have no control over what has happened, you can make certain choices that will bolster your confidence and improve your outlook on life.

Realizing and being prepared for the occasional moments when cannots enter the picture will help you push through and get to the other side of grief. As you move forward, you will encounter more and more cans along the way.

I wish you courage and fortitude as you maneuver through your cans and cannots on your journey of grief.

Until next time –

Karen

Cleaning Out

photo 1-2

I decided to spend a couple of hours really scrubbing and scouring out my refrigerator yesterday. With my work and travel schedule, it had been far too long since I had thrown away neglected leftovers and wiped off the shelves. Upon embracing the task, I even pulled out the drawers, ran hot, soapy water, and made sure those bins were free of the crumbs, dried spinach leaves, and shriveled grapes that were hiding in the back corners. It was certainly a productive time of cleaning out.

There have been other things in my life that I have had to spend time cleaning out in order to move forward in my grief journey. Some of those things have been easier to deal with than others. I found it quite easy to deal with the extra car in the driveway. It was a bit harder to face closets, drawers, and boxes filled with items  that were no longer necessary. In time those too have been finished and cleared away.

One incredibly difficult thing I had to face during these last few years was my own self-talk and cleaning that out. Every time I viewed myself in the mirror I saw half a couple, a single parent, a frightened person ill-equipped for a journey thrust upon her far too early in life. That way of thinking and communicating was toxic. Words can be just as dangerous as the little green things that grow in neglected containers forgotten and stuck in the back of refrigerator shelves. As time went by and I was able to see things more clearly, I realized that even in the midst of loss and pain, I still had great things going for me.

What is it that you can confidently say you possess in life? Do you have a loving family, true friends, a roof over your head, or resources available to help you answer tough questions? Are you able to move forward with a productive, satisfying life? You might find it beneficial to make a list of those items that you need to examine and consider cleaning out. Writing things down and seeing them before your eyes provides a new and different perspective.

As you decide what to change and get rid of in your own cleaning out, be sure to take care of yourself along the way. If you are not convinced you can do without certain things, take your time in dealing with them. While you do not want to drag things out forever, there is no need to feel rushed either. Be kind and honest with yourself. Remember that your own words are the ones you hear the most often, so make sure they are worth listening to. Talk nicely to yourself and have fun cleaning out!

Until next time –

Karen

It’s a Marathon

1450176_10151999087027940_1481461776_n

A good friend reminded last night that this journey of grief is a marathon, not a sprint. This is something I have heard several times over the last four years. As I am in the grip of grief again and watching my newly widowed brother take his first steps into this journey, I needed that reminder from my friend.  It’s a Marathon.

This means that the journey of grief will take a while. We cannot expect it to end quickly, no matter how hard we try to check off all the details and get everything right along the way. Our emotions take time to process and work through. While everyone will maneuver grief in their own way at their own pace, no route will get us to the other side quickly. Therefore, it is not a sprint – it’s a marathon.

When athletics train to run a marathon, they care for their bodies. They get plenty of rest, they take in good nutrition, and they workout and practice often. Going through the grief journey has  similarities. While we may not be able to rest well at first, we at least need to allow our body time to be still as we try to sleep. Taking a nap or two during the day at first will not break any rules either. Those first few days, you need to allow yourself time to rest when you can. Concentrate later on a more reasonable pattern of sleep in order to work or manage your daily schedule after the first weeks.

Appetite is one thing that may take a dive in the early days of grief. However, even if we do not feel hungry, we need to take in nourishment. Do your best to force-feed yourself if necessary. Even small amounts of protein can make a difference in your outlook and energy level. Consider the kind of calories you are taking in and make them count. Good choices will pay off as you try to fuel your body during these first incredibly tough, mind-numbing days.

Just as the athletics practice, those of us walking through grief do this as well. With this practice comes mistakes. We may not do everything perfectly, but at least we can try. Each day that you put behind you, is one day closer to the end of this painful, sorrow-filled journey. Have courage and do your best to move forward. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance. More than likely there are people just waiting in the wings for a chance to step in and help along the way.

Remind yourself that in the days ahead, it’s a marathon. Not a sprint. Give yourself grace and time as you venture forward on your journey of grief.

Until next time –

Karen

Waiting

bondis-wall-clock-black__0096033_PE235389_S4

Waiting can be such a difficult task. We wait in line to be served next at the store. We wait for the light to change so we can get home to the kids or get to work on time. We wait to hear if we have received the job for which we interviewed. You fill in the next blank. What is it that you are waiting on?

What does waiting require of us? The first thing that comes to mind is patience. At times there is nothing we can do to hurry along that which we anticipate. Life happens on its own schedule and there are times we feel at the mercy of the clock. Nothing can speed along the results that are out of our control. The adverse is true as well – nothing can slow down the outcomes we dread.

Waiting also calls for trust. There are times when all we can do is believe that what is happening is for the best. When it is evident that life events are out of our control, the best thing we can do is have hope and believe that there is still Someone in charge. The little things we have been forced to wait upon all our lives, have been preparing us for the big things that creep up seemingly out of the blue. While we may be caught by surprise, God is not.

I studied 1 Thessalonians 3 today. Verse 4 states, “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (ESV) We kept telling you. Life is going to have hard times, and some of those are moments of waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting for death to happen and waiting for healing. The good news is that we do not have to face those times alone. We can trust and know that God goes before us and is with us in any and every situation.

Tonight I await word that another loved one has passed into Glory. While I struggle with this, I try to imagine – and fail – what her husband is feeling. To try to relate to what he must be going through, I recall that God Himself waited for his son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. We have and serve a God who knows pain, loss and who has perfected the art of waiting.

So as I struggle in waiting tonight, I find comfort in knowing that God has walked this road before us. He realizes the exact emotions we feel, even when we are unable to define them for ourselves. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14 ESV)

Until next time –

Karen