Special Memories

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Along the grief journey you reach a point where you are able to look back and reminisce without great pain. Allowing yourself to enjoy special memories is something you may doubt will ever happen. However, when you do the work of grief, facing your fears and being honest with yourself, you are rewarded with seeing a measure of joy in remembering.

Some of my special memories are the funny times. Recently I found an incredible gift. Sorting through papers I found an old email I had printed off years ago where Alan had spent time listing nearly one hundred special memories of our years together. It was almost as if he knew I would need that list someday. Reading through the page, I found myself chuckling again at some of the crazy, funny times that we had together.

I also noticed other times that held suspense and tension. Such as the time Alan courageously drove through the hollowed-out tree in the redwood forest. I was too nervous and claustrophobic to ride along so I had jumped out to watch him go through alone. Reading the list, I also recalled the time of sitting together with no electricity due to a blizzard raging outside while we kept our two fireplaces going to warm the house, hoping the pipes wouldn’t burst. Knowing that he “had my back” in those days still brings me comfort today. Realizing you are cared for in such a way impacts how you can move forward in life today.

Even if your loved one is not present in your life, you can picture how they used to cheer you on and speak up for you when others failed to do so. You are that same person even in their absence. You are someone who is valuable and worth defending; someone who can have the confidence to face the future because you remember what you have survived in your past.

Are you able to articulate what your special memories are to someone? Perhaps you find it easier to write them things down. Create a journal to carry forward with you. Maybe you choose to be more artistic and desire to develop a memory board or a photo display. Whatever it is that allows you to smile and think back fondly on past days with your loved one is worth spending time on. Facing your past allows you to move forward to your future.

Determine to begin remembering, listing, and enjoying your special memories for the sake of grieving your loved one in a healthy and productive way. You will be glad you did.

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.

Gift of remembering

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As the holiday season approaches much too quickly, it is easy for me to feel anxious and to begin dreading the upcoming days. With the arrival of the holidays also comes the memory of Alan’s death since it occurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas and 11 days before his birthday. I was listening to a book on CD in my car this week. My commute to and from work gives me the opportunity to listen to, enjoy, and learn from some good authors. Karen Kingsbury is this week’s choice. While I have not read (or listened) to her before, I must say she has a way of writing that makes me stop, think, and realize how blessed I really am.

There is a certain gift in remembering. You are reminded of doing life with someone; the way they sounded when they laughed or the look on their face when surprised. I have learned that you have a choice how to respond to your memories of loved ones. Recalling special moments together can be a blessing. They can also be painful and looked upon as something to be avoided. You may choose to bury those memories down deep in order to keep from hurting. However, I want to propose that you receive the gift of remembering and treasure those special times instead.

Being able to recall happy occasions with your loved one is something that death cannot take from you. Those memories are treasures that you can hold in your heart and mind forever. Reliving those happier times can bring relief in the midst of deep sorrow and hope in the depths of dark nights. The gift of remembering can confirm the special relationship you had with your loved one. Knowing that they cared enough to do life with you is a blessing. Embrace that knowledge and allow it to be a healing salve placed upon your hurting soul.

What if some of those memories are less pleasant? There are spats you had, the disagreements that were difficult to navigate, and the challenges that life brings to everyone at times. Recalling how you made it through those hardships can encourage you that this present journey will not be impossible either. Because you made it through other hard times, you are better equipped to survive the challenge that death and grief bring.

Preparing for bed last night, I heard the song We Will Remember. It’s a beautiful tribute acknowledging all the times that God has been by your side and seen you through both the good and the rough times in life. It confirmed for me that there is definitely a gift in remembering.

As you approach the upcoming holidays, do so with an open mind and a willing heart. Embrace your memories realizing that the gift of remembering is proof that you loved well and lived hard. Continue to do so now. Move forward with no regrets. Do not miss those opportunities that are presented to you as you heal and learn to continue living life a new way.

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.

Jump drive

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I am doing more writing these days and decided I needed to remove some files from my computer to make plenty of room for new things. While I stood in the aisle of the store deciding what size and brand of jump drive I needed in order to transfer work elsewhere, I wondered what could be used to move certain memories to create space as I journey through grief. While an actual jump drive does not exactly aid those of us navigating loss, there are things that can help along the path we have been forced to walk.

A grieving person’s jump drive can be words. Figuring out how to express yourself to others is not as easy as some might expect. The emotions you feel seem too big for words. How can you possibly explain what you are going through when you do not understand it yourself? However, words are valuable. They secure the memories you carry. They help process the journey you are on and can bring understanding where only confusion and the unknown exist. If words can be a jump drive of the grieving, how can they be put into service?

Begin by journaling your thoughts and feelings. Using this technique as a jump drive can help you place the load of information in your mind on paper so you feel capable of moving forward with your new life. As you begin putting pen to paper, do not be concerned about complete thoughts or sentence structure. Just start jotting down your feelings, letting them flow from within. You will find that by doing this, you are able to sort through your grief and begin to make sense of events and room for new experiences when they come along. Journaling assures you that facts and memories you want to treasure forever will be held safe and sound and clearly remembered.

Talking about your loved one can also bring healing and open up room in your mind for new and precious memories. The spoken word can be healing. Some people may find it too painful to speak their thoughts out loud immediately after a death. Hearing and admitting your loss through your own words brings reality crashing upon you and the truth can no longer be avoided or denied. However, allowing conversations regarding your loved one and the loss you have experienced is necessary. Hearing others converse and share memories also gives you more to value. Gaining perspective on how friends viewed and respected your loved one is a treasure. You will find healing in eventually allowing yourself to speak of your memories, your pain, and your journey without them.

Let your words become a jump drive. Find strength, healing, and room for new growth along your grief journey. By expressing stories and memories, you are really storing them in your heart for years to come.

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.

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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.

Bear Hug

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I received a unique gift this week. A friend of mine is gifted with the ability to sew and make unique creations. One of the ways that she blesses people is to take shirts or blankets belonging to someone special and for a minimal fee form a stuffed bear, providing a way to remember a loved one. I do not believe she has a name for this ministry of hers, but I think Bear Hug is an appropriate one.

Taking a shirt that had been Alan’s, she made this cute little guy for me. I found the shirt sitting in a box in the bottom of the closet. A couple of years ago I had given away most of Alan’s clothes. I am so glad that I was able to dig around and still find something that he had worn. While the shirt itself did me little good sitting in a box as a “keepsake,” this special Bear Hug can now give me more. As it sits on my bed, I gain comfort visually, feeling a connection to my loved one. The pleasure of squeezing and holding my Bear Hug provides a physical touch that is missing in my life these days too.

As I reflect upon what it took for me to receive my Bear Hug – giving up a treasured shirt – I realize that much of the grief journey is also a give and take. Since life is no longer the same as it once was, it is necessary to be willing to change and adapt along the way.

Some days that means hanging on for dear life to memories of the familiar. Other days it means releasing what you have known and clung to in order to receive something better. There is not always logic in how grieving people view possessions. At times they seem to be the only connection left to your loved one. That is when you must realize your memories are really the treasures. The time you spent with your loved one cannot be lost nor taken away. While there is nothing wrong with holding onto a few keepsakes, there are times those items might have a better use.

For example, living in the Denver, Colorado area, our winters get pretty cold. My new Bear Hug helped me have the courage to dig through a final sack in the closet. I decided that giving away a couple of coats for the homeless to use this winter served a better and bigger purpose. The fear of forgetting and allowing memories to grow dim is connected with letting go of the last personal items I had stored. Yet, I realized that no one can take away the memories I hold in my heart.

So I spent some time burying my face in his coats, breathing in the scent that still lingered. Then I carefully searched the pockets again making sure they were empty, lovingly refolded the garments, and placed them in a clean, labeled bag, getting them ready for pick up yesterday.

As you make progress in your journey of grief, I pray you will find comfort and satisfaction in blessing people as you continue learning to release and give away to help others. If you are interested in a Bear Hug of your own, you can comment on this blog or email me at [email protected] for more information.

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.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

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As I was walking down the hallway with a young girl Saturday afternoon, she was sharing her excitement of going to eat treats. She explained that you have to roll up your sleeves first before digging in for the good stuff. I smiled as she set the example by rolling up her own sleeves, demonstrating her preparedness to begin.

This wise little three-year-old caused me to reflect upon the other reasons you might need to roll up your sleeves. The work of grief necessitates attentiveness. If ignored, the sorrow of loss will overwhelm and fool you into thinking you are defeated. However, the only defeat in grief is giving up. By being willing to put real effort into your journey, you can find yourself moving forward and making progress following your loss.

Traveling grief is not clean – it tends to get a bit messy. Therefore, roll up your sleeves and get ready to apply some elbow grease. Very seldom do good things come without work.

While you may be tempted to ignore the pain and cover it up with activity and being busy, the hard work of grief is rolling up your sleeves and slowing down enough to address your loss. Give yourself some time to reflect and remember. The memories might be painful, but they are special gifts that you will look back one day treasure.

Part of my experience of rolling up sleeves and getting to work was by keeping a journal about my grief. Writing down my experiences, both difficult ones and pleasant ones, helped me solidify and hold onto things in my mind that I feared I might forget over time. The things that I learned, I wanted to pass on to others, in hopes that my discoveries would be found helpful to others suffering a loss.

I want to encourage you to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Embrace the exertion you will experience in traveling your grief journey well. Be proud of yourself for the steps forward you will make. Give yourself grace for the backward step you may encounter here and there. Most of all, keep your sleeves up and be willing to get your hands dirty as you make your way through this difficult time.

Until next time –

Karen

(picture used with permission of parents)

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.

Creating a Legacy

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Listening to Mark Schultz’s song, A Different Kind of Christmas, is a wonderful reminder of the blessing in creating a legacy. While we face the holidays, it is okay to recognize the differences before us; an empty chair at the table, the sadness of missing a long-established tradition; forming and embracing new customs with new people.

The meaning I grasp from this beautiful, touching song is that even though the we face days without those we love, they are still with us because of the legacy left behind. There will always be a special place in our hearts and minds for these precious people because of the memories we hold close.

No matter how different the holiday season is for us after the death of a loved one, we do not need to be defeated and miserable. We can remember the ones we miss because of the investment and difference they made in our lives while they were still with us.

Knowing the value of these recollections, we must be intentional in making memories with those around us today. I have some friends who chose to forego buying numerous gifts for their four children this Christmas. Instead, they decided to invest their time and money in making memories by taking their family on a surprise cruise. I loved their ingenuity and determination. Toys and games break and can quickly lose their appeal. However, the time spent with family in building special memories together can never be replaced nor lost. What a clever idea!

Not all of us will be able to establish new traditions by taking a cruise or going on a trip with family. Fortunately, we can each get creative while experiencing new and lasting traditions, moments and events. Think outside the box and determine what it is that you can do in creating a legacy for your family.

What will my family remember about me when I, too, have gone to Heaven? Will they remember me for laughter, perseverance, a passion for life and love? Those are now my goals. I want my life to mean something. What I do today should make a difference not only in the present, but also for a lifetime. As people think of me years from now, will they gain strength and encouragement for their own journey through life? I hope so.

Let me urge you to take some time as this New Year approaches to determine how you might begin creating a legacy. Decide how you want to be remembered. Then move forward to help that dream and desire come to fruition.

Until next time –

Karen

“Winterizing” for Grief

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The upcoming winter months require us to plan and get our houses in order. As the daylight hours get shorter and the chill sets in, there are certain chores that are required. Furnace filters need to be inspected and cleaned. Hoses are rolled up and put away until spring. Leaf piles are raked, bagged and carted away. Warmer clothing unpacked, aired out and placed in closets. Winterizing our homes is a necessary chore. The same can be said in “Winterizing” for grief.

When we deal with grief, the days certainly seem darker as we face the loss of loved ones. Finding some form of light can be a challenge as we maneuver our way through uncharted waters and uncertain turns. Remembering that Jesus desires to be our source of light comforts me. No matter how dark my future may seem, Jesus can brighten my dimmed vision and provide hope.

There will be parts of life that need to be inspected and cleaned up as we figure out how to live differently. Inevitably there will be papers to sign, files to organize, and closets to clear out. Some tasks will require our immediate attention while others can mercifully wait until we are stronger and better able to handle the job. Not allowing yourself to be rushed and pressured into clearing out and cleaning up is important in order to avoid later regrets.

When we are allowed to tackle changes on our own time-table, chances are they will not seem so overwhelming. In fact, it is possible we may be able to make and cherish special memories while accomplishing our “winterizing” endeavors. I know going through and packing up my husband’s clothes was extremely difficult. It took me over two years before I could face going through his closet since doing so made everything seem final.

I dealt with conflicting guilt as I looked at his things. Giving them away seemed to say I was forgetting him and was ready to say good-bye forever. Hanging onto them longer felt like a waste of good items that I know others could use and benefit in receiving. Continually looking at his things was painful though. This war waged on until I was ready to truly accept the fact that his clothing was not what I remembered or held dear. The memories of the years we spent together are the precious things I will cherish.

Friends had offered to help with the daunting job of clearing out his closet. However, I finally chose to do it on my own one afternoon. By being alone, I was able to take my time, cry if I wanted to, and bury my nose in his shirts without feeling silly and self-conscious as I breathed in his scent. Looking back on it now, I am very grateful that I did not rush this final task. I handled it on my own terms, in my own way and made my own memories for a lifetime.

If you are struggling with difficult decisions that are seemingly pulling you in opposite directions, be encouraged. Only you can determine the right time to “winterize” your life in dealing with grief. As long as you are seeking to heal and striving to honor your loved one as you take care of yourself, you are on the right path.

May your find hope and strength for the days ahead as you tackle the job of “winterizing” for grief.

Until next time –

Karen

Rash Decisions

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Have you ever had a rash, chicken pox, or poison ivy? Perhaps your child suffered with diaper rash at one time or another. These skin conditions can be annoying, inconvenient, ugly and at times painful. The accompanying itching and burning is enough to drive one crazy. As we suffer, we tend to scratch, often times without thinking about it.

Thankfully, with medical advances, we have the advantage of ointments and treatments that relieve the painful symptoms since continual scratching can cause scarring. Eventually, we have the assurance that the rashes will run their course and soon enough, go away. Too bad we cannot deal with grief that easily and quickly.

As we move through our sad and difficult days, we may want to scratch to make the pain go away. The word “rash” now becomes something different. Instead of the affliction itself – as in chicken pox – it is the action with which we react to our situation. In order to avoid the annoying, inconvenient, ugly and painful moments in losing a loved one, we may act quickly and rashly to hurry through the difficulty of the journey. Through taking these actions, scarring can occur.

What might a rash decision look like? It could be as simple as hurriedly cleaning out a closet and giving away personal items to a charity. While this is commendable, there is value in relishing the memories as you take time to carefully go through drawers, closets and boxes. These items represent a last connection to your loved one. You have the right to proceed slowly as you process and clear out clothes and memorabilia.

Maybe your rash decision is a little bigger, like the sale of property or a house. While it may seem like a good idea in the beginning, be sure to take time and think through all the ramifications of no longer living where your last days were spent. Will you regret not having access to the familiar feelings of home? By having a new place to live, will you feel comfort and relief or sadness and regret?

There may be a time that selling things and clearing out possessions is unavoidable. If this is your situation, do what you can to hold onto precious memories and good times. Take pictures and choose just a few small items to keep and cherish. A scrapbook is a great way to commemorate a life now past. It is easy to store and is accessible when you feel the need to look and remember.

The important thing is do not live life making rash decisions that can wait. If you have the time, take it. Pray through things and seek wise advice. You may not be able to apply an ointment to make the hurt go away quickly. However, as you continue to learn how to make your way through the “ailment” of grief, you will find that the ugliness and pain you currently experience will lessen in time.

Until next time –

Karen

Unexpected Interruptions

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“Who’s Susan and Dan?” They represent an interruption of a special day long ago. Yet those words are ones I will remember with a smile on my face and a sweet memory in my heart.

Alan and I had been dating only a short while when I invited him to attend the wedding of friends of mine. The ceremony would be in Kansas City, an hour’s drive from where we both attended college. He arranged to take off a bit early from his part-time job that Saturday morning to give ourselves plenty of time to find the church since we were  unfamiliar with the location.

Upon our arrival, we parked the car and walked into the church. As I went to place the gift on a decorated table in the large church foyer, Alan went to a podium holding a basket of cute, little scrolls tied with ribbons. He untied and opened one and then said, “Who’s Susan and Dan?” I hurried to his side, took the paper, and read it with horror.

Without a word, I slinked back to the gift table, excusing myself to another couple standing there, retrieved our gift and practically ran for the door, urging Alan to hurry up. Poor guy did not have a clue as to what had happened. 

Back in the car, I read the invitation and realized that I had the date wrong. We were at the right church, just one week early! I was so embarrassed. How could I have been so stupid? We had not been dating long enough for me to know what Alan’s reaction would be. To my utter amazement and relief, he laughed! We ended up going to a Kansas City Royals baseball game while we were in town. I called home and told my parents the change in plans and I remember Mom’s remark, “He’s not mad? Wow, he’s a keeper!” 

My point in sharing this funny and embarrassing experience is to impress upon you that each day we have a choice of how we will handle the unexpected interruptions and incidents of life. While we cannot control life itself, we can choose to approach and accept the unexpected turns with grace, humility and humor.

You may not feel that you have much to laugh at or smile about right now. I want to encourage you to treasure each day though. Whether the next twenty-four hours turn out exactly as you have planned or you find yourself scrambling to adjust to an interruption in your schedule, today is a gift.

Relish the present and live it to the best of your ability, tucking the memories away for the future. Who knows, you may have a “Susan and Dan” experience that you will be able to laugh about years from now.

(The picture for this post is from a Colorado Rockies game in 2010. We kept the tradition of occasionally attending ball games. This was five short months before Alan passed away.)

Until next time –

Karen