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Each January is hard. It’s not the snow or the cold or the harsh winds. It’s not even the darkness that lasts too long. It’s the heaviness on my heart as two birthdays come a week apart and those loved ones are gone.

Grief is an odd thing. Psychologists can tell us the stages of grief but they cannot tell us in what order they will come to us. The how often, how long, and how intense the waves of grief will be is unknown until after they pass.
“Shouldn’t you be over that by now?” says someone untouched by grief.

“It will get better.” 

Yes, it will. It’s easier to breathe now. The waves of grief seem further apart and less intense at most times. Each year is better. But the loss never goes away completely..

I miss my mom. I miss her smile. I wish she was here to tell us, “Can’t we just all get along?” 

I was very fortunate. I got to enjoy my mom for almost 60 years. On this day 4 years ago, my brother from Australia flew in to surprise her on her 90th birthday and one grandchild drove in sub-zero weather to celebrate with us.

None of us could have imagined that our mother would be dead eight months later. She enjoyed life too much to give it up. She tried as best she could to take care of her health. But her heart no longer had the power to the pump oxygen to all of her muscles and repeated falls weakened her. 

I was helping her after she broke her collarbone in a fall in early August. We spent a wonderful time celebrating my brother’s art at an event to honor him one year after his own death. We came back to my house and the excitement of my dog caused both of us to fall. Her head hit the wall and a tiny vessel in her brain started to bleed.

Within hours she started to leave us, despite the efforts of a medical team. A few short days later, she was gone.

So, those stages of grief that the counselors talk about come and go in waves that are hard to track. This January might be harder because I am dealing with issues that I had ignored for many years regarding my brother’s alcoholism. My mother is deeply ingrained in those memories.

How I wish I could take back the times I criticized her for helping too much, while trying to fix Jim’s problems. I didn’t realize I was doing the same thing to her, trying to fix her.

I remember our conversations after dad died. She missed him so much, but she wanted to keep living and live life as best she could. She had the confidence that she would see him again. That gave her hope and strength for each day.

That’s what she would want for all of us: to face life with confidence that God ultimately has everything in hand; to find hope and strength for this day and all the days to come.

Okay, mom. I’m going to smile today, remembering your smile. I’m going to make a new friend today, remembering your welcoming nature. I’m going to try as best I can to help everybody get along. And along the way, I have to make a few batches really of good Snickerdoodles and Spritz. Thanks, mom.
More on Snickerdoodles

According to Wikipedia, The Joy of Cooking claims that snickerdoodles are probably German in origin, and that the name is a corruption of the German word Schneckennudel (“snail noodles”), a Palatine variety of schnecken.[1] It is also possible that the name is simply a nonsense word with no particular meaning, originating from a New England tradition of whimsical cookie names. Wikipedia- Snickerdoodles  

Click here for recipe and clear instructions: Super Soft Snickerdoodles from TheKitchn

 Spritz cookies – Our mom and dad, who often baked together, used a star-shaped tip in the cookie press and piped a long snaky shape onto a cookie sheet. Then, they cut the snake into individual “S” cookies. No sprinkles, frosting, dipping in chocolate or food coloring for them, as they enjoyed the rich buttery flavor unadorned. Occasionally, my parents created wreathes and other shapes but the “S” was the one I looked forward to eating.

A cookie press is helpful, but these can be made with a pastry bag or plastic bag with a star-shaped frosting tip. This Spritz recipe  from Serious Eats details the techniques to get great cookies, not just decent ones. 

Stages of grief 5 grief stages from PsychCentral

Help for those who grieve – An online support group can be a good start, but I recommend finding or beginning a local group whenever possible. The DailyStrength website offers a wide variety of support groups. This page on Death and Dying has  adult groups and a different group for teens.


New warning label for my ladder

 At age 63 do not use this ladder without a helper unless only using only the second step.

The best response from posting my accident of falling off a ladder while clearing ice buildup was from my elder brother. “Congratulations…if you keep trying you’ll catch up with me in the dumb stuff accident league. Heal quickly and always ask yourself, ‘what did I learn this time?'”

So, what did I learn?

My mobile phone should always go into my right hand pocket, as that was where I first looked for it when I was still on the snowy ground after my fall from the ladder.

I was reminded that I have very good friends. After getting myself inside, I quickly realized that I was in no condition to care for myself. I called my friend and neighbor, Amy, but she wasn’t home and had no transportation at the time. She asked if she could call another mutual friend. Sue came immediately, and suggested that we get my wedding ring off first, before swelling made it impossible. She found my old wrist brace, got out our cold gel packs, and stayed with me until my spouse arrived.

I learned that everyone has a dumb stuff story. I heard the best story on Monday when an x-ray confirmed the break and I went to my next appointment with a splint securing my left wrist. A woman older than myself began her story like this; “My husband had gone into town… “. I could relate. Mine had gone to a meeting.
She was on a ladder hanging a wallpaper border, reached too far and fell through a large window, but didn’t get cut or hurt in any way. Her husband came home and asked, “What happened to the window?” The woman proudly told me he didn’t get upset and they fixed the window.

I learned that my illustrations can be somewhat dated. When I explained to a medical tech that I had tried to reach too far as if I was Stretch Armstrong, she nodded and said, “Mine is Go Go Gadget.”

I was reminded how wonderful my spouse is. He rearranged his schedule several times this week to accommodate my needs. He shook his head at my foolishness, but never told me I was stupid. 

I am still learning various ways to get thing done one-handed. I cannot tie my shoes or put on my iWatch. The first day I needed help with almost everything. My spouse and I have done this dance before. Helping the other person get dressed because of some health issue has happened many times throughout our 42 plus years together. The dance does involve some conversation, a few assumptions and miscommunication, and then comes clarity and mission accomplished.

Finally, my own struggles remind to pray for others. As I tried to keep my arm higher than my heart even in bed, I prayed for those in pain who cannot find a comfortable position for sleep. When I had to think through the smallest details of a task in order to find alternate methods, I prayed for those with Parkinson’s disease like my friend, Steve Quam, who travels across the country on his bike in order to teach people how to live well with Parkinson’s. While I just had to figure out how to open my toothpaste, Steve has to think through how to shape his lips to play his flute, something that came effortlessly prior to the illness that affects muscle & brain connections.

My husband hopes I learned never to climb ladders, but I know that did not happen. Yet, the fall will remind me to climb down and move the ladder to a better position rather than trying to reach. And, oh yes, get a second person to help.

Steve Quam peddles for Parkinson’s
Learn to live well with Parkinson’s- Davis Finney Foundation

Today would have been my youngest brother’s birthday. James Edward Dahl, born January 24, 1958, the youngest of five children, died August 18, 2012. His creative brain was stopped by an bursting aneurysm which soon after stilled his beating heart. More than four years later, I don’t need pictures to remind me of his warm smile or the pain that he medicated through alcohol.

fullsizerender

I attended my first Al-anon meeting last week. I wish I had gone years ago. But I told myself that his alcoholism affected my co-dependent mom, not me. I lived too far away from his daily life. I thought I was not touched by this disease. However, as I tried to move forward after his death followed a year later by our mother’s death, I discovered many unresolved issues surrounding my relationship with my artistic, lonely, sharing but self-burdened younger brother.

At that Al-anon meeting, around the room I heard echoed my own thoughts and struggles. Why couldn’t  I fix him? How come I could not convince my mother of her co-dependency, as she gave him money and made excuses for him? During my visits to see him and mom, I’d ask, “Didn’t he love me enough to delay drinking until after the movie?”

I heard one admit that she was like the older brother who would not join his Father’s celebration at the return of the Prodigal Son in the story told by Jesus. In her words, I heard my brother’s accusation that I rode into town being the “Good Child” and leaving mom upset. When he blamed others and could say it aloud, he usually had been drinking and so my admission and apology could not be received, but I rarely heard his heart cries. I did not understand his inner pain or the hold that alcohol held over his life.

I was the self-righteous one with all the answers. Since his death, all I encounter is questions. If I couldn’t fix him, could I accept him for who he was? If I couldn’t understand his behavior, could I acknowledge his great love for his family, his friends, and his art? If he could not wait for that drink after a day of smiling at unreasonable customers, can I face the fact that I longed for him to be free, to be whole, and to receive the love that God and so many offered him? Can I see the log in my own eye in all those efforts to force our mother to see the speck in hers?

Today’s reading in Courage to Change, a book given to me at that first Al-anon meeting, I am encouraged to be myself, to own my own feelings of anger, embarrassment, resentment, or fear that one of my children may “catch this disease.” Today, I can choose to honor my brother’s struggles and his gifts. Today, I can embrace my own faults and contributions.

I can apply what William Shakespeare wrote, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

– link to Al-anon Family Groups in USA, Canada & Bermuda: http://al-anon.org

–  The Biblical story of the prodigal son can be found in the book of Luke chapter 15  with a few other lost and found stories.

–  Jesus’ words on the log and the speck are in Matthew which is printed here.
Matthew 7:3-5 New Living Translation (NLT) from Bible Gateway.com

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye[a] when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend,[b] ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.                       [a & b: in Greek = brother]

– humorous note on context of Shakespeare
quote from Hamlet: https://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/thine-own-self-true

Hopes

I have no words for the pain of my church member. I had few words for the pain of my-sister-in -law, but I could at least offer a hug.
One mother’s cry echoed by thousands more and I feel inadequate to respond.
Scripture says that we who believe mourn, but not as those who feel no hope. Yet where is the hope for a mother whose arms were ready to hold, but left empty? Where is the comfort for the grandfather who anticipated that first great grandchild and now feels helpless before the sad eyes of his favorite granddaughter?
I listen and pray, but I also direct those who have experienced the devastation of miscarriage to writers whose can comfort with the comfort they have received.
Submitted with tears, but hanging hopes on trees. I trust that in the fallen leaves some seeds will grow new hope.

Hang Your Hopes From Trees

Today I hung my hopes from trees

and fate brought in a stirring breeze

and plucked off and scattered piles of leaves

and threw them to the ground

Today I stared into the sky

I wondered aloud and upwards, Why?

Fate stared back with unblinking eyes

And never made a sound

I listened to the wind today

And wondered where you’ve gone away

And fate sent only cold my way

and an empty space within

Today I walked out in the rain

And asked to have you back again

And fate kept pulsing through my veins

But never did give in

Today I couldn’t let you go

Tomorrow will hurt too, I know

But even though I wish it so

You aren’t meant to be mine

What can make my heart unlock?

What can ease this pain and shock?

Fate replied with the ticking clock

The only cure is time

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Not Guilty (7/16/13).

Safe stories are where we hide and rest. God stories stretch and challenge us.


My biggest problem in a small church setting is to clone creativity. Finding people to join me in discovering and telling the dangerous, life-changing stories of God is difficult, but things worth doing are worth the effort. I trust God will reveal the ones called by the Spirit.

Today's post is in response to a recently launched blog, “No More Safe Stories” that is designed for church creatives. I'm starting over in a new parish with little technology, so I won't be using videos for a while. I can still tell the stories. Journey Media offers support for creative types to challenge and encourage each other. After all, creative people always face the obstacle of “But we've never done it that way before.”

Pastor Hazel Behrens
Serving 3 churches in rural North Dakota

http://www.arthousecoop.com/library/8819#page-slide_1

7 pregnancies, 6 live births.

Individual words given in a flash describe a point of my faith journey in relation to each child. This brief sketchbook was an outpouring of those words lived and interpreted over 20 years. My hope is to expand this work someday soon.