Good-bye to little Lizzie

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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

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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.

Taking shortcuts

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Driving in my neighborhood yesterday I noticed another driver going around the roundabout in an intersection incorrectly. Instead of going all the way around before turning on her street, she chose to cheat. She took the turn cutting in front of me, without going around the circle. Taking shortcuts may seem harmless at times. Yet there are dangers in giving into this habit too often.

As a grieving person, you oftentimes find yourself taking shortcuts in order to get everything done. Time is short and the work can be long. Chores around the house are demanding while your energy is quickly depleted. Just getting through the day can be challenging. What can you do when you find yourself in these circumstances?

While cutting back on your daily chores at times may do no harm, there are other things you should take care to keep intact. It is wise to invest plenty of time in some good practices in order to keep healthy as you travel through grief.

Taking shortcuts is never wise when it comes to spending time in God’s Word. Great comfort and peace can be found in scripture. Perhaps when grief entered your life you were not in the habit of studying the Bible. There is no better time to start as you learn to journey through your loss.

Avoiding taking shortcuts in your self-care is vital too. Do your best to get plenty of rest. Eat healthy food that will fuel your body with good nutrition. Give yourself permission to see a movie, read a book, or take a long walk enjoying the beautiful outdoors. Part of caring for yourself is making time for recreation and relaxation.

Spending time with friends is another activity worth your limited energy supply. Taking shortcuts when it comes to healthy relationships will only bring you isolation and loneliness. Do not be afraid to be open with a special friend or two. While people cannot possibly take the place of what God can do for you, they are a valuable gift.

Cutting out worshipping together on a regular basis – going to church – is a dangerous way of taking shortcuts. While you may feel it is time well spent to sleep in and chill on a Sunday morning, or “it’s the only time we have as a family,” several things can happen if this becomes a habit. First of all, you show disobedience towards God’s command to “… spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) You not only receive instruction, enjoyment, and growth from corporate worship; you also are there to bless others with your presence in their lives. 

Another danger of skipping time in worship was experienced by our oldest son. He told me just this week of the hard lesson he had learned years ago. Having recently moved to a big city away from home, he was working hard at his job while trying to make new friends. Even though he attended church weekly, he began to slack off on his commitment to meet mid-week with the small community group from his church. Even though he did not mean to do it often, it became such a pattern that he found himself without a close friend to call when his dad – my husband – passed away. Taking shortcuts caused him pain and regret.

As you continue to journey through loss, be careful about taking shortcuts that will rob you of beneficial things. Take the time to invest wisely as you walk in your present and toward your future. May your find blessings and strength as you travel and learn how to do life with grief.

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.

Achievements

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It is the season for graduation parties. That time of year when students celebrate their achievements having finished requirements in order to proceed ahead, either in school or life.

Recently I attended two graduation parties. One celebrated the end of high school and looking forward to college. The other honored a young lady who had finished college and has a bright future in the nursing field. Both studied hard, set their sights on a target, and reached their goals with joyful success.

At the time that as these young ladies were preparing and enjoying their parties and celebrations, another friend was reaching a different kind of achievement. After living a full life and doing his best to honor his family and his God, he stepped into Heaven, passing from life on earth after a long illness. While this may not be the type of achievement any of us desires, it is one that each of us will one day have to face. Death is inevitable.

As you watch your loved ones leave this earth, you are left learning how to deal with a life that has taken a new direction. Treading along on your grief journey will require you to determine new goals or targets on which to aim.

One important goal is to take care of yourself. Do your best to ask for and accept the help that others offer. One aspect of loss that I did not understand at first was that it actually helps others to help you. People do not always know how to express their sorrow and concern for you in words. That makes their gifts of time and deeds even more meaningful – to you and to them.

One other goal you might seek is to be patient. Give yourself permission to go slowly. Take time to treasure your memories if you can. Stop to feel, admit, and embrace your emotions. It is okay to be sad; everyone expects that. However, it is also okay to be confused, forgetful, upset, angry, and weary. Your emotions are real and denying them will not make them go away faster. In fact, admitting they exist and dealing with them will help propel you forward on your grief journey.

Achievements are reason to celebrate. We all experience them to different degrees. As you learn to walk through loss, rejoice in the baby steps and small achievements you acquire. It is not an easy road so be encouraged with any forward progress you make.

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.

Switchboard skills

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One of the jobs I held during my early college days was as a clerk in the utility/payment office at Ed Marlings in Topeka, Kansas. I did a lot of data entry on computer and took payments at the window as people came to pay bills. I was also trained on their old-fashioned switchboard to relieve the regular phone operator for her daily breaks as well as her vacation times. While the switchboard skills were not difficult to learn, there were a few things that were important to remember in this position.

First, it was necessary to answer the calls in a certain manner. Besides the rehearsed greeting we were to say, our attitude and tone of voice was important. Appearing pleasant was required.

When you walk through grief, you often do your best to put on a strong “front” to show others you are doing just fine, when in truth you are hurting terribly. Knowing when to be strong and knowing when to release your pent-up emotions makes your journey easier. Having the freedom to be “real” with certain people is certainly helpful and something every grieving person needs.

Another of the switchboard skills that transfers to walking through grief is testing the waters. When we were connecting an incoming call to their requested party, we were to lightly touch the end of the plug to the correctly numbered slot to see if the person being called was on the phone. The only way to tell if that line was already busy was to hear the static that occurred when we touched the slot.

When traveling through loss, it is natural to want to test the reactions of others. You may offer only a little of your story while watching their face for telling signs. You may also test yourself by trying to get back into the flow of life’s activities. Are you ready to venture out to eat alone? Perhaps it is safe for you to attend a show or movie without feeling conspicuous. It is also possible to go overboard the other way. Are you compensating for your loss by staying too busy?

There were a few times when I was substituting as the switchboard operator that I failed and plugged in to a busy line at times, causing terrible static and a momentary ear-splitting noise. Oops! Quickly grabbing the cord and pulling it back out was all I could do to remedy my mistake. The same is true in grief.

If you try something and fail, then take a step back and gather your thoughts. Evaluate the situation. What happened and why? Is there a better way to try it next time? Would a friend give you constructive advise to help you see a different point of view? Chances are what you perceive as a failure probably is not all that bad. Your feelings can be tender as you journey toward healing. Be encouraged to keep trying and keep honing your own switchboard skills as you walk through grief.

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.

Keep Your Head Above Water

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When I was young, my parents made sure I took swimming lessons. Mr. Penny was the instructors name and he had a big pool in his back yard. My parents would bring me to classes for a week or two each summer. I am told that my lessons began when I was four years old, although I recall very little of that first summer of swimming

What I do remember of  that first experience is the final day’s lesson. The parents of all the kids had gathered to watch our program and see what we had learned during our sessions together. Being a slightly independent and stubborn child, I am not surprised that I chose to go my own way during one point of the program. While Mr. Penny was talking to the parents and explaining what they would be seeing, I chose to alter the show by climbing up on the diving board and jumping feet first into the deep end of the pool.

Now remember, this was my first week of swimming. I had hardly conquered the diving board or the deep water! I had spent the time blowing bubbles, keeping my head above water, and learning to kick my legs while my arms flailed around. However, there I was, poised for flight when I yelled out, “Watch me, Mommy!” and proceeded to launch myself into the depths of the pool.

My mom told me years later that Mr. Penny immediately dove in and came up right next to me as I managed to raise to the top and gasp for air. Then that wise teacher talked me into kicking my legs, told me to keep my head above water, and led me to the edge of the pool without touching me, allowing me to do it on my own. I do not remember being scared at all. It seemed completely natural to me. I have enjoyed swimming ever since.

As an adult, there are days when you have to work very hard to feel as if you are able to keep your head above water. Life tends to get challenging and defeat lingers nearby. You feel yourself checking over your shoulder often to see if you are gaining any ground and making progress against the deep waters surrounding you.

Be encouraged, for when you feel life is over your head, go to the God who is over your heart. God is greater than your biggest challenge. He is stronger than any deep-rooted fear. No matter what it is that you are facing, you can count on Him to raise you up so you are once again able to keep your head above water and breathe in the blessings He is waiting to bestow upon you.

We can learn great things from our challenges. Just as I learned to not fear the water at the tender age of four, I have since learned to walk through the difficulties of loss with my head held high. What is it that you battle against as you work to keep your head above water? Give that battle to the Lord and trust that He will fight for you. “For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” Deuteronomy 20:4 (NIV)

Until next time –

Karen

(Note: This picture is of my nephew swimming on our family vacation several years ago.)

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Grief Letters” By Karen Bransgrove

Published by WestBow Press

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

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

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

E-Book | 114 pages | ISBN 9781490869650

Life on Paper

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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

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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

Waves of the Ocean

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The sound of the ocean has such a calming rhythm. As you listen to it, you can picture the waves as they crash in and wash against the sandy shore. Up and down, in and out, the noise is continual. I admit I am no expert on seeing the ocean. I have only had that pleasure once in my life. To compensate though, I am listening to ocean sounds as I write this morning. In doing so, I am reminded and amazed at the power the waves of the ocean possess as they beat against the coastline.

As we experience loss, we may feel as if we are being tossed about and pounded with waves of sadness and loss. Just as a shoreline is impacted by the waves of the ocean, we are impacted by grief. Let us look closer to better understand what we may be feeling at times.

The waves of the ocean shape the coastline as it continually moves in and out, dragging dirt and sand to new places. The grip of grief also has a way of shaping us as it moves in and out of our days and nights. Nothing seems to stay the same. We discover new losses and changes as we work to maneuver a life constantly moving and morphing around us.

With that being said, I do not believe we are powerless in this journey. While feeling the effects of grief is unavoidable, I do believe we can embrace our new “shoreline.” Being able to admit that things will never be exactly as they were before is a huge step. This acceptance does not mean we are defeated. It simply shows that we are willing and able to adjust and adapt to a new life situation.

While the waves of the ocean seem never-ending, they do change as they move in and out with the tide. There is a lessening in the crashes felt along the shore. The water fails to have the ability to reach as far and as powerfully in low tide as in high tide. The same is true in experiencing our sadness and grief. Some days will be easier than others. The power and pull of hardship and change is lessened and we are given a respite from the pounding that we endure.

While grief may never really end, it does get reshaped. We eventually get to live at a low-tide intensity rather than having to brace for the brutality of high-tide waves of the ocean. These more powerful breakers may occasionally and unexpectedly sneak in and wash against our lives. However their frequency in doing so will continue to lessen. Realizing and arriving at this part of the grief journey takes time.

Be patient with yourself and with those around you as you learn to walk this journey of grief. Just as it can be challenging to walk through wet sand with waves crashing around you, the grief journey can present a difficult path in which to navigate. Remembering that you are never truly alone can provide you strength. Pray for God to give you sure footing as you move forward.

Until next time –

Karen

Sorting Through Special Days

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Trying to make sense of emotions and memories on certain days of the year can be challenging. While the mind knows one thing and moves in that direction, the pendulum can quickly swing on an opposite course where the heart and spirit are concerned. We can logically reason that a date on the calendar is just that, another day like any other. Yet, our emotions are capable of causing anxiety for what that day may actually bring. Sorting through special days is necessary as we maneuver the journey of loss and grief.

Today is a special day for our family. It is my husband’s birthday. We’ve crossed four of these particular days since his passing in 2010. Birthdays were a big thing in our family. He loved to open presents first thing in the morning. There was no such thing as waiting until the evening to begin celebrating. While we would generally have a special dinner, and definitely his favorite Banana Nut Cake, the cards, presents and birthday serenading began upon rising in the morning.

As I realize the arrival of another birthday that won’t be celebrated, it strikes me that today is still special. I do not have to dread it. Each day we are given should be treated as a gift. Scripture reminds us, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24 ESV)

Just because I will not be giving birthday presents and baking a cake does not mean there is no reason to celebrate. God gives each day to use for His glory. My purpose in life did not end four years ago. As I spend time sorting through special days like today, I learn to live with tears in my heart, if not on my face.

If you too have certain days that are harder than others, be encouraged. You are here for a reason and you are not alone. Allow yourself time in sorting through your special days. Give yourself permission to cry and grieve along the way. Then decide how you can still appreciate those days in a new way. You can gain strength and hope as you successfully maneuver through your own journey of loss and grief, one day at a time.

Until next time –

Karen

Move Forward

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My quiet time study this morning took me to the book of Joshua in the Old Testament. Chapter 3 continues the sequence of events after the godly leader, Moses, had died. God had now placed Joshua in the lead. They had been commanded to move forward. The priests who carried the ark of the Lord led the way as they were instructed to cross the Jordan River. This was a daunting a task, since that time of year found it to be at flood stage. How could they possibly accomplish success in their journey?

We read “Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away…. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:11-17 NIV)

God worked a miracle in allowing His people to cross and move forward on dry land when, if left to human abilities, they would surely have been swept away and their journey halted. Friends, those traveling through grief can make progress this very same way!

While we attempt on our own to leave our loss behind, all too often we find ourselves overwhelmed and thwarted in our efforts. There is no escaping the sadness and pain of grief. However, we can learn much from what was accomplished in the scripture I just quoted.

If you look carefully at the verses, the priests’ feet actually touched the water’s edge. They weren’t given the ease of watching God move the waters first before they crossed on dry land. These people had to act in faith as they moved ahead into the messy and flowing waters. Only then was the path cleared.

We too must trust God and place one foot in front of the other even when it looks like we are going to collide with the failure of a dead-end in our lives. Moving forward does not mean we leave behind the memory of our loved ones. The value and joy they brought to our lives are not forgotten nor negated. In fact, as we have faith and place one foot in front of the other, trusting God to make a way for us, we are better able to cherish their memory. Time spent with our loved ones will remain in our hearts and minds and we will eventually be able to enjoy reliving those moments without as much pain.

Focus on how you can move forward in your grief journey today, if only an inch at a time. Little by little, you will look back and realize that with the help of others and through the strength God can provide, you have made progress in your journey.

Until next time –

Karen