The Empty Room

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I recently attended a funeral. While I didn’t personally know the deceased, I am very close to several of his family members. We arrived early to make sure all the details were being handled for the music and media that would be used during the service. At one point, everyone left that family holding room leaving me to myself. I stood and looked around realizing the significance of the moment in that empty room. Having experienced an incredibly difficult loss myself five years ago, I took a few minutes to think back over time to see the empty room for what it stood for in my own life.

When all the friends and family go home after the service and the obligatory condolences are said, you are left with the empty room. There comes a time all too soon after your loss when you find yourself alone and trying to figure out what is next. One moment you have more than enough people around you and then the next you would give almost anything for the diversion and company of someone sitting with you again.

The empty room conveys a closure to your loss that you may not be prepared for. Seeing the vacancy that loss brings is stark and painful. No longer can you hide behind the need to play host or hostess to a room full of people. Keeping busy meeting others’ needs and concentrating on anything but your own hurt and loss is no longer an option. Now the empty room looms over your days and nights.

Now that you see the barrenness that grief can bring, how do you handle it? What can you do to move forward on your journey and not feel locked away and trapped by the empty room? Recognizing the posture of being alone is the first step. When you find yourself dreading to return to your own empty room, be intentional to change your position. Make plans to go out with friends. Invite someone over, asking them to pick up dinner on the way. It is within your power to alter the emptiness.

For those times when the empty room persists, embrace the quiet. Set aside time to mourn, remember, cry, and be thankful for what you once had. Realize that your daily schedule may not give you the time you need to heal. So take advantage of the empty room to do just that – begin to heal and face the reality of your loss. This will be the beginning of learning how to live again with the great change that has been brought into your life.

Be encouraged when you see the empty room. Don’t feel that you need to run from it, but also don’t feel trapped by its existence. It’s just a room. What you do with it will make the difference in your own grief journey.

Until next time –

Karen

Grief Letters is available for you to purchase. Having hope and purpose is not impossible when facing loss and pain. 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!

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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.

Stand in line

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The other day I stopped by my local county building to get my car tags. Even though I arrived fifteen minutes before the office opened, a good-sized line had already formed. I stood patiently watching the people near me. One young lady was panicking and calling her mother saying she didn’t have her insurance card. They seemed to be trying to scan a picture in to her email to remedy the problem.

Other people behind me were impatiently debating as to whether they wanted to stand in line and wait for their turn. They seemed defeated with the need to stand in line behind so many people. Was the wait really going to be worthwhile? While standing in line is not always pleasant, it is necessary at times.

As small children you learn to stand in line. Make it straight, hands to yourself, be still and quiet, and follow the person in front of you. While this skill is one that you probably perfected in your school years, somehow, walking through grief and being expected to stand in line waiting to feel better seems overwhelming and unrealistic.

The thing that many people fail to understand is that the grief journey is anything but straight. The path is not one that allows you to walk and follow the person in front of you. One person’s grief is never exactly like another person’s grief. You are not afforded the ease of just seeing someone else’s path and following their exact footsteps. Loss just does not work that way. There are no clear lines and no sure map to follow.

However, you can find some direction as you journey through grief. Because your loss is unique to you, there is no need to feel that you must stand in line and wait for others to determine your path. Sure, you can gain great insight by watching others. Some people will inspire you, giving you hope and the courage to face what life has handed you as you move forward one step at a time. By watching others though, you may learn things you do not want to do as you live each day missing your loved one. Perhaps their missteps will save you some pain down the road.

As you move forward, remember that you get to choose how you grieve. You get to say when you need to stop and cry, and when you want to embrace victory and laugh out loud. Do not let the world demand that you stand in line and hold yourself back from the healing that is just ahead of you. Put one foot in front of the other and begin your walk. Your time to stand in line is finished. Now you get to move forward and be restored.

Until next time –

Karen

Grief Letters is available for you to purchase. Begin the year with hope and purpose. 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!

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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.

Games

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I enjoy board games. When our boys were young, we played hours of Monopoly, Scrabble, and Life. Uno, Phase 10, Pass the Pigs, and Farkle have been favorite games we have played with my parents over the years. Dominoes was my mother-in-law’s game of choice. She was really good at it and could not be beat – at least not by me.

Several years ago I was introduced to Bananagrams, a fast-moving version of Scrabble combined with crossword puzzles. I like this game because you have to think on your feet and be willing to change your initial puzzle to adjust to the letters you acquire throughout the game. At a recent staff retreat, I talked one of my friends into playing this with me. He did great! I loved teaching him the game and sharing my passion for words and creating puzzles that Bananagrams requires.

As I have worked through my grief journey, I have discovered that playing games can hold a whole different meaning. It is easy to pretend that everything is fine and you are doing well when in fact your heart is still broken and the last thing you want to do is wake up each day facing your loss. This week has caught me off guard several times as I have realized anew that I am truly alone. Alan really is not coming back. My boys are married and have moved off to begin their own families. A planned life can be changed in an instant.

Grief is not a game. It is for real and in a way it is for keeps. Even after nearly five years, I can feel the loss of my loved one as if it had just happened yesterday. My eyes blur and my throat closes and burns with the unshed tears. However, there comes a point when you have to accept that this is how things are. Life has been forever changed and learning to adapt to it is the only wise option. But it is not easy.

While I enjoy the challenge of adaptability and change required in my favorite game, Bananagrams, I am not so fond of the challenges dealt to me over these past five years. However, I can hold my head high knowing that I have survived. While it is not easy, journeys can changes, plans can shift, and new courses must be charted.

When you feel as if you cannot possibly go on, stop, evaluate all that you have accomplished in your new life, and use those positives to fuel your ongoing journey of grief. I know that the only way I have managed to continue forward movement is due to my faith in God and His strength and direction in my life. It is a comfort to know that when I am tired, I can stop and rest, knowing He is still in control. I do not have to have each moment planned out and I do not have to be perfect, following specific game rules.

Trust that God will help you adapt and figure out the new things you continually encounter as you walk with grief. Keep plugging away and you might just find that you have enjoyed a moment more than you anticipated. The day you dreaded turns out to have been fun after all. You can and will learn to adjust to your new life.

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!

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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.

The Inside Out lesson

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After work today I finally made time to go see the movie, Inside Out. I had heard it was good, but really knew nothing more than what I had seen on the pre-movie trailers. It was a cute show, providing funny lines causing the audience to laugh in unison throughout. However, I found the Inside Out lesson deeper than just the opportunity to relax and have fun.

Just in case you have not been able to see the movie yet, I will be careful not to give away the storyline and spoil it for you. I do encourage you to watch the movie with open eyes and a tender heart. There are lines of deeper messages for the discerning viewer from the beginning of the movie to the last scene shown.

My favorite thing about Inside Out was the lesson regarding the importance and value of being honest with your emotions. Often times on the grief journey, you may be unable to express how you really feel. Your tears and fears are real and you should not be ashamed or hesitant to show them. There are times you may feel the need to deny your true emotions because you do not want to make others uncomfortable. You are not responsible for how others will respond to you and your walk with grief.

Drawing attention to yourself can be another reason you choose to put on a happy face and pretend to have a cheery attitude. Blending in and stuffing your emotions may seem the easiest thing to do most days. Unfortunately this practice will eventually catch up with you. In order to move forward in your grief, you need to experience and deal with the effects of your loss.

One emotion that the grieving encounter yet want to deny is simply – laughter and happiness. I remember the early days of my grief journey. There would be a moment when something actually struck me as funny and I would laugh, only to be appalled with myself. How could I possibly find levity so early after saying good-bye to my loved one? However, since that time, I have come to see the wisdom and necessity of some light-heartedness on the deep, long, painful journey of grief.

The Inside Out lesson reminded me that true friends and loving family members will accept you right where you are on your journey. There is no need to pretend that everything is just fine. While you do have hope and assurance that God gives strength for the hard days you will encounter, admitting your sadness and grieving your loss does not mean you lack trust or faith. Being honest makes you a courageous, truthful person who recognizes a need for help.

Go watch this movie and see for yourself the Inside Out lesson that you can apply to your own grief journey. May you find yourself smiling, laughing, and yes – even crying as you watch with open eyes and a tender heart.

Until next time –

Karen

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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.

Paddling hard

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One of the fun activities I get to do each summer is white-water rafting. I take the church preteens to a camp near Grand Lake, Colorado. During the week, we take a half-day trip down the Colorado River, making our way past Class 2 rapids and paddling hard, following the commands of the guide on each raft. Anticipating the river adventure this summer, I am reminded that the grief journey requires careful maneuvering as well.

The most important part of white-water rafting is listening to the commands of your guide. These skilled people know the river. They travel it daily for months and are familiar with the rapids, the ins and outs of the currents, and know what to expect around each bend of the river. You can trust they know their stuff.

As you walk through grief, there will be some people who want to give you instruction and direction. While people mean well, unless someone has walked through a similar loss, they can lack the ability to really understand your situation. Because each person’s loss is unique, what helps someone else will not necessarily be helpful to you. If you are not careful, you can find yourself paddling hard yet making little headway toward healing. Pray for wisdom as advice is given to you. Spending time in prayer and reading the Bible can give you peace and comfort as you find yourself paddling hard to keep your grief-filled raft afloat.

Taking advantage of the wind and current allows the rafter to grab a much-needed break in between bouts of strenuous work and paddling hard to make headway against the elements encountered on the river. Looking ahead and preparing for the upcoming rapids is key to staying in the boat as the waves begin to pound and you find your raft tossed on the water.

Having an idea of what to expect on your grief journey can be helpful. Recognizing and taking advantage of an easy day that presents itself amid the torrents of grief is vital. Those moments of relief can prepare you to endure the hard stretches you are sure to encounter when grief comes pounding and raging from time to time.

While paddling hard is necessary is making your way down the river, doing so correctly helps conserve your energy for the long haul. Leaning into each stroke allows for more power while reserving strength in your arms. Digging deep and working hard is essential to keep moving in the right direction.

Finding ways to lean into your loss will help you go the distance on your grief walk. Realize that fighting your sorrow will only prolong the journey. Instead, embrace the pain in order to move ahead and make progress on a difficult path.

Your grief journey requires the difficult work of paddling hard in order to move forward. Just as the raft steadily moves along, you can find yourself encouraged when you look back and see how far you have come. May you find the strength to continue as you focus and envision reaching your destination of healing and dealing with your grief in a healthy and safe manner.

Until next time –

Karen

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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.

Brakes and gas

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When I was learning to drive I was warned about the bad habit of pushing the accelerator, quickly slamming on the brakes, then laying on the gas again. The extreme use of applying brakes and gas certainly is not a smooth or smart way to drive. In fact, the overuse of them can actually create a dangerous situation.

As you travel along grief’s road, there will be occasion for you to halt your forward progress in order to slow down and process your emotions and deal with life’s demands. It will be natural for you to be still at times, receiving needed rest and time before once again moving forward. While you can expect your progress of healing to slow and even stop for a short while, most of your grief journey will be spent moving forward.

You may have days when you feel lost and finding joy seems hopeless. Anticipating the pain of recurring grief, you may unintentionally be applying the brakes in your journey, fearing the hurt that may be ahead. By digging in your heels and refusing to move forward, you actually can cause more heartache for yourself and those around you. Being unwilling to accept the changes that grief brings is a sad place to park.

There is also danger in stepping too quickly on the gas while moving along grief’s road. Wanting to avoid the pain and sadness associated with death, some people choose to ignore their loss and hurry through each day. They refusing to admit a need to process what has happened and work through certain emotions. Speeding ahead full steam without awareness of your surroundings may cause you to repeat your journey later down the road instead of healing and finding comfort and joy in the present.

The misuse of both brakes and gas in your grief can cause your journey to be jerky at best. Though traveling through grief is never smooth, it is possible to move ahead at a reasonable, doable, and healthy speed. Expecting the turns and obstacles that slow you down will help you process more quickly. Fearing those same turns and obstacles is not necessary when you trust that God has a plan for your future and none of your present life situation has caught Him by surprise.

Everyone will move along the journey of grief at their own pace. There is no one correct speed that should be dictated to all who are on this journey. No formula can promise that in a certain amount of months of years, you will feel all better. Just as you are an individual and uniquely created by God, your journey is unique as well.

Move forward with confidence. Do your best to find joy along the way. Admit when you need to slow down and rejoice when you can gain a little momentum. The reasonable use of brakes and gas is necessary in your journey. May you be encouraged to find the right combination for you.

Until next time –

Karen

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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.

Self Talk

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Jokes are sometimes made about people who talk to themselves. The old adage assures you that the problem is not so much talking to yourself. The challenge is actually found when you begin answering back. I want to propose that the real danger can be the actual message you convey in your own self talk.

As you journey through grief, the person you tend to spend the most time with is yourself. For that reason, the things you hear yourself saying are important and impactful. Even if the words are never given voice, your heart and mind are shaped by the very thoughts that make up your self talk.

A positive attitude, while difficult to muster in the midst of sorrow, can alter how you see your journey. Instead of listening to negative self talk, look for positive truths you can still believe. While you may no longer have your loved one with you physically, your memories are things that cannot be taken from you. Reminding yourself of the precious treasures you still possess can help you change directions  from the road of despair to a path of hope and healing.

Begin to whisper truths to yourself. Be kind, gentle, and generous in your self talk. You have already been through so much. There is no need to bring harshness and negativity along with you on your journey. You will need to face enough difficulties as you learn to live with loss. Life will not always seem fair to you so do your best to be honest and positive as you have conversations which involve your mind and heart.

What is life but a bittersweet mix of sadness, wonderment, joy, and hope? There will be difficult days ahead. Yet, intermingled in those hard days will be glimpses of memories that will make you smile. Speak words of encouragement to your own ears. Your positive self talk can be one of the best gifts you receive today.

Until next time –

Karen

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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.

Something Beautiful

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There have been plenty of times when the last thing I felt was something beautiful. The early days of grief took their toll. I failed to eat well, lost drastic weight and looked drawn. Lack of sleep caused dark circles under my eyes and zapped the energy from my normally upbeat disposition. Inability to concentrate and the absence of the desire to socialize inadvertently landed me in a place of isolation that was unhealthy, lonely, and at times frightening. The journey was hard, the days were dark, and beauty was difficult to find.

How could any good thing exist in the midst of such loss? As you travel your own grief journey it can be hard to see clearly. Life can seem so broken that all you see is ugliness and pain. However, stay the course and hold fast to your faith believing that death is not the end. It can be the beginning of something good. Something beautiful will begin to seep into your view if you keep searching.

Picture the tiny, homely caterpillar. It spends its days inching along, living life as only a caterpillar can live. While its existence may seem mundane and ordinary, there is a journey of beauty just ahead! After the hard work of cocooning and waiting, transformation is realized, a butterfly appears, and something beautiful is achieved. Because the tiny caterpillar was willing to keep doing life, it found fulfillment and discovered its purpose as it flies into the sky.

Hard work that went into building that life-changing caterpillar cocoon. The same goes for your grief journey. Walking it well takes work and persistence, even in the midst of adversity, pain, and sorrow. Trust that there is something beautiful in your future and keep walking forward. Believe there is a good purpose for all you are currently enduring and experiencing.

On the days that you have difficulty seeing something beautiful, know that even when you do not know it, others are catching a glimpse of beauty through your determination to journey well and your can-do attitude. Stand strong and have courage!

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Until next time –

Karen

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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.

 

Leapfrog

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Traveling from Denver to Topeka this week I had to smile each time I encountered trucks along the way. While I would not describe myself as being competitive, I do find satisfaction when I pass a truck and see it disappear in my rear-view mirror as I pull away – going the proper speed limit, of course.

However, the moment of victory with each truck was easily forfeited if I chose to pull off the road for gas or a short break. Even though it is necessary to stop and take care of business occasionally, I found it frustrating to realize that those same trucks gained on me during my interludes. How dare they!

As I had to work again to catch up and fight for my position on the road, I realized that the grief journey is a lot like playing leapfrog. It seems that as we walk this difficult path, we jockey for position with pain, sadness, and progress.

You will have days when you feel great. Your attitude is good and your hopes are high. When you look behind, you can see the advancement you have made and your forward progress is steady. Until one morning, for some unforeseen reason, life seems dismal. Depression attacks with a vengeance and you struggle to even get out of bed and accomplish the simplest tasks.

What happened? How did grief catch up to you so quickly and unexpectedly? Just as I had to drive hard and keep focused to overtake the trucks on the highway, when you walk through grief, determination is necessary.

Knowing ahead of time that you will experience set backs and disappointments will help prepare you for those surprise encounters. When the sun shines outside yet all you are able to see is a gloomy future, know that you just need to play a little leapfrog and spring into action. You have not really lost the ground you have worked so hard to gain. Regressing periodically is part of the journey. Stay focused, think positive thoughts, and rely upon God’s strength in your life to hop over the seemingly large obstacles in your path. When you continue to try, healing is within your grasp.

Picture yourself placing your hands on that roadblock and pushing off the ground with your legs planted firmly. Before you know it, you will find yourself propelled upward out of the depths toward your goal ahead. Play a little leapfrog and find yourself once again moving along your grief journey with success and victory in sight.

Until next time –

Karen

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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.

The Carousel Never Stops

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I received a phone call from my older brother Friday morning informing me that my mother had been taken to the hospital by ambulance the night before. My dad had just called him to say she could not catch her breath. Neighbors had come over in the middle of the night and ended up calling 911 to get them the help she needed. Upon hearing the craziness of the night they had endured, I realized that the carousel never stops.

Just when you think things are settling down and life is calm, you are thrown by a phone call, email, or surprise visit. You find that there really is no way to control the speed and direction of life’s circumstances. As much as you may want to slow down and get off, the carousel keeps turning and your horse of choice keeps bobbing up and down with you aboard.

How do you handle the sudden change of direction that those days take? Is there a way to keep from being thrown off as the spinning seems to accelerate and you experience more than your fair share of stress and responsibility?

Being prepared ahead of time for those occasions along your path is important. No matter how hard you try, there will be instances when you just wish the spinning would stop and you could get off the ride for a while. Since that is not a possibility, equipping yourself for the journey is vital.

One thing you can do for your health in coping with unexpected things is to realize from where your strength comes. I know that I am unable to do everything by myself. I have a network of friends and family who offer encouragement and help when I need it.

Knowing that you have a safety net in place, you can feel more comfortable trying new things and stretching the bounds of your abilities. On those days when the carousel never stops, look back and see that your foundation is still in place and a little spinning is not going to destroy you. While you may be shaken a bit, you can survive, pick yourself up, brush off, and continue forward on you journey.

While this network of support is important, the key to coping with life is knowing the One who gives life. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121: 1, 2 (NIV) God wants to be your help – so let Him! Although life surprises us, it never surprises God. Take encouragement in that fact. God has your back. While you are riding the carousel that never stops, God has a harness upon you, holding you safely through the spinning and the dizziness that can follow. When you feel your grip loosen on Him, know that He will never let go of you.

Until next time –

Karen

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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.