Labels

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I recently stayed at a hotel for a couple of days while being with family and saying good-bye to yet another loved one. That first morning, I went to the breakfast nook provided for guests and placed a few small items on my plate. Grabbing a cup, I looked around for a pitcher of water. I am not a coffee drinker and I did not desire the apple and orange juices they provided.

After failing to find what I wanted, I walked over to a staff member asking if there was a place I could get some cold water. The blog picture for today is what she pointed out. A pitcher of water was mixed in with all the provided milks – skim, 2%, and whole – but was not clearly labeled. I thanked her, poured my water, and laughed as I sat down. How was I supposed to know that was water?

Labels serve a purpose in life. They inform us whether a drink is milk or water. We can make informed decisions when we choose to buy items containing high fructose sugar or gluten. Labels help in selecting the correct piece of clothing so we do not have to guess whether a dress is a size 8 or size 12. Labels tend to establish standards by which we have come to expect. However, what happens when those same labels place us in categories that we dislike and desire to have no part of?

One such label is associated with loss. The terms of widow, widower, bereaved, orphan all fall in this category. While these titles may help the world understand something about a person, they contribute very little to really understanding the actual person themself. Just because someone has been forced to say good-bye to a loved does not mean that individual has forfeited their own identity of being who they were.

For example, when my husband died, I was given the label of widow. While that word fit, I fought the meaning behind that word. That one label threatened to take from me everything that I still claimed to be. I fought to establish that I was still me; still a woman, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a coworker, a friend, a teacher, and most importantly – a child of God.

While labels can help society put you in a neat category, no one needs to fit only in that one area. The danger of labels is that one name might come to consume your identity. When I say I fought to be those other things – mom, sister, etc. – that is just what I had to do. My heart and mind were flooded with grieve. I felt I was wearing a large, neon sign blinking a message to those around me, “I have experienced sorrow and grieve. I am a widow.” Yet the last thing I wanted was pity.

When people encounter you as a grieving person, they often lack knowledge of how to treat you. Because people care about you, they feel for you. Their empathy can often be interpreted as pity. As I walked through my grief, I learned to have grace with those around me and fought to re-establish my viability as a person who had much to offer the world. I refused to be debilitated by my loss. Yes, the world is much different now. It has proved to be harsh and cold at times. Yet, there is still hope and purpose.

If you dislike the labels you see and hear, then work toward establishing new ones for yourself. What are my new labels? Survivor, conqueror, and author are just a few of them. You can help determine the direction of your grief journey. Pray, seek, and then get to work. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

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 lessons learned from 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.

Long Line of Love

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Yesterday I was asked to play piano for a funeral. As I sat in the front of the chapel, facing outward, I had the unusual perspective of watching the faces of the family who were saying good-bye to their loved one. Having walked that road four years ago, I felt deep pain and sorrow for them as they tried to be strong. Once we have walked a difficult journey, God allows us empathy to better understand how others may feel in similar situations.

I was intrigued by one of the grown sons who sat beside his mother. As the video slide show of family pictures played, I watched as he would glance at the screen for a moment, then force himself to look away, swallowing hard and fighting for composure. It was not until he later stood up to share his thoughts about his father that I understood. He confessed that he would have to watch the video another time, as he feared he would be unable to “hold it together” and share if he allowed himself to view it then.

In his speech, he mentioned how loving and giving his father had been. He told of a song that conveyed his feelings of gratefulness for the family to which he belonged. Paul Overstreet wrote and sang Long Line of Love that told the story of a young couple committing to each other in marriage. Amid the doubts and stresses of keeping their vows, they knew they could handle whatever came their way because the husband was from a family who loved each another. The number of years his grandparents and parents were married and still loved each other was a testimony to what true love was and gave them the courage to do the same themselves.

After coming home and listening to that song I smiled. I too come from a long line of love. My parents have been married 62 years. I was married 26 years before having to realize life as a widow. However, there is another long line of love that is even greater.

Jesus Christ has shown his love for all mankind by dying a painful and lonely death on a cross two thousand years ago. Since He loves me and gave so much for me, I know that I can handle whatever comes my way because I never have to walk alone. Even though Alan is no longer here by my side, my God is.

Do you know this kind of love? God wants to carry you in love through everything you face.

The special thing about a line is that it is just a point that walks forward. So if you feel you have not been left a heritage of love, you can be the beginning point! Today can be the start of something special, good and lasting.

My desire is to hand down a long line of love to my children and someday my grandchildren. Even though I do not have Alan here to love now, I can love others – family and friends – knowing that what I choose to pass on will make a difference. Here is to your long line of love as well. Be it long or short, may it grow, lengthen and bless you on your journey.

Until next time –

Karen