Tag Archives: death

Grief: One Year

12 Feb

Today marks one year since my mom’s death.

One Year is a milestone. It means we have survived the “firsts”—the familiar holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, now all different due to the gaping hole left by my mom. We are still trying to figure out how to function as a family without her. She was the glue. She did a lot.

One Year also makes me realize that all this time, I’ve been subconsciously hoping that this was still just a nightmare. I want to say, “Ok this can be done now. We’ve had enough sorrow and pain.” I’m like a child being dragged somewhere, digging my fingernails into the living room rug, refusing to go along. I don’t want to keep going down this sorrow-filled journey. I don’t want to keep yearning to see and hear my mom. I want to just see and hear her. But One Year reminds me, this is permanent until heaven. Man, that hurts.

They say the First Year is the hardest, and I expected to crumble into a puddle of emotions and crying at every special occasion that was now being celebrated without my mom. But I didn’t. Those occasions were times to recall the happy memories, see the vast impact my mom made on our lives collectively, and relish family time, which my mom loved to the core of her being.

Instead, the hardest parts of the First Year were the things I didn’t even think would be hard. It was not having my mom call me after my first day at my new job. It was not being able to ask her for advice when the girls got sick or were driving me crazy. It was not being able to spend the week with her while Travis was hunting in Wyoming. It was not having her to go shopping with, or ask about decorating opinions, or just listen to me while I vented about life.

It wasn’t until my mom was gone that I realized how much I valued her as a friend.

She was an excellent listener, and she had the ability to draw me out like no one else, save my husband. I told her things I told no one else but Travis, and she always listened with support and love. We had entire phone conversations that were just me talking about my problems, and her listening. It wasn’t until we hung up that I realized I had no idea what was going on with her, because we talked about me the whole time.

She was interested in everyone, friendly, always asking questions, actually listening to the answers, and asking follow-up questions. It reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

That was my mom. She loved life. She loved people.

She was my best friend.

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Even More Thoughts on Grief

19 Jul

July 13th would’ve been my mom’s 63rd birthday. July 12th marked 5 months since her death.

We had the Krsnak family reunion the weekend after the Fourth with two of my mom’s brothers and their families. It was enjoyable, but bittersweet. My mom’s absence was palpable, inescapable. We all commented that it seemed like she’d show up at any moment, ready to cruise the lake on the pontoon or whip up something yummy in the kitchen.

We picked flowers from her garden and displayed the bouquet in a pickle jar. We took shots of pickle juice again, just like we did right after she had gone to heaven. We served her favorite foods: dill pickle chips, everything bagels, cucumbers in vinegar, barbeque pulled pork, snicker salad. We spread buns, bagels, muffins, and cheese slices out on plates, placed chips and fruit salad in bowls, just like my mom would’ve done. Even for a casual lunch, she’d put things on plates for a nice presentation. I never realized how much effort she put into things until trying to fill her shoes. They’re big shoes. I’m exhausted.

The human experience is so varied and multi-faceted that once I adjust to the idea of my mom’s absence in one sense, something else pops up and I have to deal with all over again. While we were in Ohio over Memorial Day, we had been relaxing on my aunt and uncle’s shaded brick patio, talking about where we should go for dinner. I had suggested sushi since Travis and I love sushi, and there’s nowhere to get it in Brainerd. Then I remembered there was some reason why we didn’t usually go out for seafood as a family… what was it again? Oh yeah… Because Mom didn’t like seafood.  A wave of grief overtook me.

It’s hard to move on and make memories and have life experiences that your loved one isn’t involved in, and doesn’t have any knowledge of. For so long, you’ve forged memories together and shared experiences together, to the extent that you didn’t even realize how much of your identity and experience of life was wrapped up with the other person. Until they’re gone. Then you see that, just like C.S. Lewis talks about in The Weight of Glory, that your enjoyment of something was enhanced, brought to fruition, by sharing that enjoyment with someone else. And when that person is no longer there to enjoy it with you, you no longer enjoy it the same way—and may never enjoy it that way again.

Another idea that I’ve been mulling over quite a bit recently is from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves:that each individual person brings out a unique aspect of someone else, so when you lose a friend, you not only lose them, but also the facets of the personalities that they brought out in other people. You lose the dynamic they brought to the group.

I love my family, and always look forward to spending time together. I inherited that quality from both of my parents, who would (and did) bend over backwards, and move heaven and earth to spend time with and help out their family. But I’ve discovered since my mom’s death that the thing I enjoyed most about being with my family, was being with her with my family. She, in many ways, was the hub, the turnstile, the bonding glue. Our family dynamic will never be the same.

Looking through photos of my mom the other night, I was reminded of how much fun my mom was. She was never afraid of looking silly or doing things that were beneath her. She’d wear funny hats and costumes, play in the sand with the kids, make us all answer an icebreaker question despite our groaning, coordinate games and activities like a contest to see who could spit a cherry pit the farthest.

Last Thanksgiving, we were sitting at the dining room table of Travis’ parents’ house, eating dinner. There was a lull in the conversation and I thought to myself, “This is the moment when Sheri Moen would ask everyone to say one thing they were thankful for.”

Even though I’m consumed with missing my mom, I’m not devastated. Because I know that she is still alive in heaven. Her soul still exists. She is still conscious, and having experiences. She is with Jesus, and in His presence there is fullness of joy. It’s like my mom moved to a foreign country. I won’t see her again for the rest of my earthly life, which I mourn, but I will see her again. At the same time I see her again, I will also see Jesus, and we will all glory together in God’s goodness and love for the rest of eternity. That is my hope in the midst of this earthly grief.

Grief.

21 Mar

My mom is dead. My mom died.

I keep repeating those words in my head, unable to comprehend this truth. We knew it was a possibility, even a probability, for so long and yet now that it’s happened, it doesn’t feel real.

Other times it feels like a stab in the heart. Or like an elephant sitting on my chest. Like a nightmare I can’t outrun. Like someone else’s life I am observing. Like the whole world is different. Like the world is the same and I’m different.

With two young kids, I don’t have the option of sitting around grieving. And to be honest, even though spending extra time in bed or on the couch sounds appealing, I want to keep moving forward with life – if for no other reason than my mom would’ve wanted me to. Even in her last weeks and months, she was worried most about how her death would affect us, how we would handle the gaping hole she left in her wake. She was concerned about other people so much that it drove me crazy sometimes!

She loved being a mom, and for the past four years, a grandma. There is hardly any aspect about mothering now that does not remind me of her. When I nurse Annabelle, I think of my mom nursing me until I was over 2 (so she said, I don’t remember it). When I rock either girl in my arms, I think of my mom, who loved, loved, loved rocking babies (no sleep training for that woman!). When they cry, I think of how she wouldn’t have been able to stand it—her momma bear instinct was too fierce.

Those reminders of her make me want to be a better mom. A mom who is more patient, loving, kind, gentle, self-controlled and self-sacrificing. I want to “major on the majors” and make sure I find time for the most important things, not let my days get eaten up with things that don’t really matter (even if they’re things I enjoy). I want to live my life with joy and passion, to pursue my dreams, to make the best use of my days. I want to enjoy being a mother, to truly embrace my role and not just view my girls as impediments to my freedom and personal time (which I do sometimes because I’m selfish). I want to be compassionate and patient with my girls, to hold them when they’re crying, to get on their level and understand what’s wrong instead of getting mad that they’re being difficult. Because life is short, and I want to look back on these years able to say that I loved deeply and lived well.

As we sat by my mom in her last hours, my dad, older brother Jeremy, sister-in-law Jen, younger brother Chris, and I all took turns rubbing her arms and hands. Her freckled hands were as familiar to me as my own. They were her instruments of serving and healing. Those hands cared for us, patched wounds, massaged backs and legs, changed diapers, blew noses, washed bodies, applied sunscreen, dried hair, cooked meals, wiped tears.

I find myself wishing I could talk to her in prayer like Jesus. Even though we were blessed with time for saying goodbye in long, heartfelt conversations, I find myself replaying what I said and wondering, “Why in the world didn’t I bring up more fond memories, instead of her being left alone with all the kids for hours by my dad and grandparents, and her throwing the hairdryer in anger at me when I was being extremely difficult? Did I even tell her that I thought she was an amazing mom and friend, and loved her to the core of my being?” So I ask Jesus to tell my mom that I love her and miss her, and that those aren’t what I think of when I remember her.

Instead, I’ll think of how she was my favorite person on earth next to my husband and babies. I’ll think about how familiar and dear she was to me, and how genuinely I enjoyed being around her. Yes, it’s true her worrywart tendencies drove me crazy sometimes, but isn’t that a mark of true intimacy? I’ll think about the weeks last summer that the girls and I spent with her while Travis traveled. Precious memories. I took them so very much for granted. If I had known then that she’d be gone by now…

But here’s the thing about watching someone die from cancer or disease: you often don’t know what to do or say. Even as a Christian with the greatest hope in the world, I stumbled through conversations and interactions because I just didn’t know. You can’t fully understand what the other person is experiencing, and you’re dealing with your own hard, mixed emotions about the whole situation. You want to be positive, but not Pollyanna. You want to be encouraging, but realistic. You want to empathize with their sorrow and fear, but not contribute or add to it. You want to ask about the situation, but you also want to distract them from it.

What I decided early on, especially since it was my mom, was that I was just going to show up and be real. I was going to try hard to point her to Jesus, and remind her of the hope she had in Him, but if I didn’t have the words, or know what to say, I’d just be there anyway. And I’d say, “I’m not sure what to say.”

Same with being by her side in those last days. What do you do in that situation? I wasn’t sure, but before I even left my house, I determined that I would not let my weird hangups or fear of awkwardness make me regret not doing something for her or with her at the end of her time on earth. So I sat by her on the bed, holding her hand. I hugged her, and rested my head on her shoulder when I saw tears in the corners of her eyes as she listened to a music therapist named Julie sing Beyond the Sunset with just her voice and an acoustic guitar. I wiped her mouth, dotted chapstick on her dry lips, and told her through sobs that this wasn’t the way I’d remember her—that there was this picture from the Mexican family reunion where she was playing a guitar made out of a skewer and aluminum sheet pan and laughing. That’s how I’ll remember her.

My brother Chris called the Tuesday before she died. “They don’t think she has long left,” he said. Even though I had visited her in the middle of January and said what I wanted to say, how do you not rush to the bedside of one you love so dear? So I packed up and hit the road with Annabelle (Travis would follow with Tina Tornado on the weekend so that I could have some quiet time with my mom), arriving in Rochester Tuesday evening. As I was unloading the car, my dad took Annabelle up to see my mom. He said she just lit up when Annabelle entered the room.

That night and Wednesday, she was alert for 30 minutes or so every few hours. Wednesday night, my dad woke up Jeremy, Jen and me in the middle of the night, thinking that the end was near. But her heart was stubborn and held on for all of Thursday too. That was a long day. Some extended family came to visit. The music therapist and hospice nurse came for a bit. Several times, we thought the end was close, but she recovered, heart beating, lungs breathing.

Thursday night, we went to bed around 10:30. About 12:15 am on Friday, I woke up to my dad nudging me and he simply said, “She’s gone.” I got up and followed him into the hall, where we talked to my brother and sister-in-law a bit. We said good night and headed back to bed, but the second I got under the covers, I was like, “What am I doing? I can’t go back to sleep right now!”

So I headed upstairs and asked if I could see her. And it was true: she was gone. Just the shell of her earthly body remained. Her soul, the real her, was in heaven with Jesus. Chris said truthfully, “Now we’re the ones to feel sorry for.”

My dad called the funeral home and they said they’d be out in 30 minutes to take her body. So Chris went and got Jeremy and Jen, and we all stayed in the bedroom until the funeral home people arrived.

While they carried her body out of the house, the rest of us moved into the kitchen and Chris jokingly suggested taking shots of pickle juice (one of my mom’s favorite things) in her honor. “Let’s do it!” I said. So the five of us said, “Cheers,” and drank shots of pickle juice at 1:00 in the morning.

Early afternoon on Friday, Travis and Emma arrived, and the rest of our time down in Rochester was a blur of funeral preparations, seeing extended family and chasing wild kids. That was one of the hardest weeks of my life, and I was relieved when I could finally retreat to my own home and familiar comforts. I see vaguely now that part of the reason was that I wanted to escape the relentless reminders of her absence, a luxury my dad doesn’t have.

Two weekends ago, I returned to Rochester for the first time since my mom died. As I walked in the door of my parents’ house and saw a peace lily from the funeral my dad had placed on the piano, it hit me afresh that my mom was gone. It was just his house now. Little by little, evidences of her decorating, organization, presence will disappear. We boxed up unused medical supplies and sorted through her clothes, personal items, jewelry, shoes, and purses while I was there, making piles of things to keep, things to sell, things to throw. I know it’s time to do these things but it still just feels too sudden, too soon.  I haven’t been able to delete her contact from my phone because it feels like I’d be erasing her. I know it’s not… but still.

Grief is a process, and as the hospice chaplain told us, it’s different for everyone. When I focus on this earthly life, I am devastated my mom died. But when I remember the hope of heaven, and the fact that she’s there now, I feel peaceful. As one of the wonderful sympathy cards we received says (in the words of M.B. Anderson): “God confidently assures us—in the great symphony of life, the final refrain for the believing heart is triumphant, everlasting JOY.”

We’re sad on earth, but my mom is celebrating in Jesus’ presence. We saw her earthly life end, but she is living a glorious beginning.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

Keeping an Eternal Perspective: Death

14 Jul

{This is the third installment of this weekly series.}

A good friend of ours from church recently found out that there’s a mass in his lungs the size of a softball. He got a biopsy on Tuesday and will most likely get the results tomorrow. He has had a very God-centered, realistic perspective on the whole situation — acknowledging that he might not have much longer to live or be entering into a season filled with surgery, chemo, and unpleasant side effects. He’s currently coughing a lot, which is taking its toll as well.

Our friend’s reaction to this situation made me think of what the apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:21, 23 — “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul was ready to go home. He would choose dying over life, because it meant being with Christ. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

If Jesus returned this very minute, would I be overjoyed and ready? Or would I say, “Well, this isn’t really a good time. You see, I’ve got my first Olympic triathlon coming up in about a month. And I still haven’t seen Greece or Italy, had a book published about how I became a Christian, or had kids. So can you come back in 10 years or so? I’ll be ready then.”

I have to admit, there are times when I think that if Jesus came back today, I’d be slightly disappointed that I had to miss out on all those things I’m currently looking forward to experiencing. But that’s me being a child making mud pies in the slum, turning down the offer of a holiday at the beach. It’s so easy to turn good things into ultimate things. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Great Divorce, illustrates this with people who are in hell, still maintaining their death grip on what they valued in their earthly lives. And that’s exactly why they’re in hell. Even some of the people who make the journey to heaven turn back because they can’t let go of their earthly treasures.

I think Paul sums up what our approach to these good earthly experiences should be in Colossians 2:17 — “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Think of what your shadow looks like when you’re standing outside in the sun. Distorted. Hard to make out. You can kind of tell what it is.

That’s what these earthly things are: shadows.

Family, achievements, goals, new experiences, beautiful places — all of these are dark blobs of the reality. In light of how enjoyable and amazing these earthly things are, that’s saying a lot about the reality! What is the reality? The gospel — that God has acted through His own Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile a fallen race to Himself, in order that He might live in fellowship with and enjoy us for eternity. That is the reality that He is revealing through this experience and place we call Earth. This is not the final product. This is temporary. This will fall away.

Are we longing for that day? Or are we busying ourselves with “good things” that cause us to lose our edge, soften our convictions and compromise our character? Are we Christian warriors, constantly sharpen our weapons for the day of battle and being constantly vigilant for the return of our King? Or are we so busy with our projects, goals, daily lives, and routines that our weapons and armor are gathering dust and getting rusty?

I’ve heard it said that the Christian life isn’t about choosing between good and bad; it’s about choosing between good and almost good. Satan is sneaky (if you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters by My Favorite Author Ever — can you tell? — you totally should) and will use anything he can to deceive us and to foil our relationship with God. Even innocent things, things that God Himself created.

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and natural and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we are always trying to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It’s more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return — that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.” (The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis)

If you want to read more about the idea of good things vs. ultimate things, I recommend reading Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller. It’s a very good book.

Life according to Woody Allen…

16 Aug

I just read this article about Woody Allen in the latest Newsweek. My heart breaks for him! A director who has had an amazing career but he says that he still makes movies “not because he has any grand statement to offer, but simply to take his mind off the existential horror of being alive.”

“I can’t really come up with a good argument to choose life over death. Except that I’m too scared,” Allen says.

Later on in the article, Woody Allen is quoted as saying, “Your perception of time changes as you get older, because you see how brief everything is. You see how meaningless…I don’t want to depress you, but it’s a meaningless little flicker…You have a meal, or you listen to a piece of music, and it’s a pleasurable thing. But it doesn’t accrue to anything.”

As I read that article, I was reminded of something I wrote in high school. For several years before I became a Christian, I really struggled with the meaning and purpose of life. If I had not become a Christian after my sophomore year of college, I have no doubt that I would resonated with Woody Allen’s sentiments very much.

This is what I wrote in my diary when I was a junior in high school: “There are no other words that I can think of to describe life other than futile and worthless. Really, when you think about it, what the hell are all of us doing here? We go through school, which everyone despises but supposedly it’s ‘beneficial.’ We get a career, which most people hate and they end up wasting their lives on things that don’t really matter. So what the hell are we doing? Sure there are some good times, fond memories. But they all end. Everything good or worth anything ends at one point. Nothing can be relied upon. You may think that you have your life figured out and everything may be peachy keen for a while. But just wait and see–life will throw you a curveball, guaranteed. There is absolutely no doubt that your life will truly suck. And not just once. Repeatedly, over and over. You know why? Because life’s a bitch and then you die.”

By the end of my senior year of high school, this is what I thought: “I know that I have felt–and still remotely feel–that the good things in life seem to be constantly squashed by the shit. But I have also realized that while some good things are temporary, so are the bad things. Nothing in life is ever definite, without the possibility of it being changed.”

Which is all fine and good that I held that quasi-belief then but it still didn’t answer my question: What the hell are we all doing here? I still didn’t have a purpose to my life, no meaning. Until I became a Christian, my life was all about pleasure and rebellion. I smoked pot, got wasted, and slept around because it was wild and free. There were no rules.

But my sophomore year of college, I started rethinking my take on life. I wasn’t happy. I was miserable. My life consisted of surviving each week to get to the weekend and then being so hammered and stoned all weekend that I didn’t remember half of it anyway. I thought to myself, “Is this ALL there is to life? This is IT?” I think Woody Allen started in that place–but he’s questioned it for so long with no answers that he has resigned himself to “This IS all there is and life is SHIT. I would kill myself but I don’t have the guts.” That is truly tragic. And I am sure that he is not alone in his feelings. I think it is common for atheists to feel that way (but most likely not that intense).

Without Christ, life is meaningless. Because only the Creator of the world can tell us what it all means, the reason why we’re all here. That was what drew me to Jesus in the first place–He was something to live for. I finally had something to live for, something to build my life around. I finally had a purpose. Reason #456,278 why I am so glad and thankful that God called me to be His.