Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Approaching Thirty Years-Forever Connected

August 25th will be thirty years since Mom’s death. She died one week after her 56th birthday. I was only 28 years old at the time.

During my younger adult years, Mom and I didn’t have a great mother/daughter relationship. But when I became a mother to our first child, Heather, in 1983, my desire to build a closer bond with her was rekindled. However, given the fact I now lived in Ontario, and she was still in Newfoundland, the face-to-face conversations weren't always possible. Skype and FaceTime were unheard of back then, but through frequent phone calls, we had managed to build a great rapport.

I was pregnant with my second child when Mom and I had a conversation about my deceased brother, Patrick. In a matter-of-fact tone, which had caught me off guard, she'd mentioned how she would love to, someday, have a grandson named after my brother. Needless to say, this revelation must have tugged at mine and Derick’s heartstrings because Mom would get her wish. And four months after Patrick was born, she'd get to hold her grandson for the first time.

Patrick turned thirty this year, on March 11th. Each year his birthday is a reminder of the significant role his namesake had played in his grandmother's life before she died. And it all stems back to our last vacation we had spent with her.

I grew up in a little coastal town along the southern shores of Newfoundland. Our two-story home was situated forty feet from the ocean’s edge. The prevailing summer winds always left a smell of salty sea water in the air, and I distinctly remember its scent when our family arrived in my hometown on July of 1987.

I vividly remember Mom standing in the doorway that day. Her beautiful smile and outstretched arms would send our four-year-old daughter running toward her. And her smile would only double as I placed Patrick into her arms. But how could we have possibly known it’d be the last week we would see her alive?

One month after our wonderful trip home, one week after Mom's 56th birthday, I'd receive the dreaded phone call that she had died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

I would now board a plane to, once again, head back to my hometown. This time, it'd be without my immediate family. This time, shock and numbness would accompany me. And this time, I'd have to say goodbye to Mom in a way that would rip my heart open.

Entering our home with some of my siblings that day was the worst day of my life. Mom’s birthday cards were still upright on the living room table. Her blueberries that she had picked a few days prior were still on the kitchen counter. I remember how I walked down the hallway to her bedroom, where I climbed into bed and sobbed into her pillow. I could still smell her scent. Oh, how I wanted her back, but I couldn't turn back the clock. I now had to find a way to live in a world without her, which hasn’t been easy. Grief forever changes us, and it changes the way we view the world around us as well.

I've been learning and writing about grief in the last decade. And it has brought much healing; it has taught me to let go of the things that aren't in my control; it has given me the wisdom to know what is normal grief and what isn't. But more important, it has taught me to embrace those I love, more deeply.

The trivialities of life can hinder our relationships. Don't leave things unsaid, because tomorrow may never come. I know all too well that it isn’t easy to ensure the cycle of life is one of love and forgiveness and not one of regret. But it’s a cycle that, in time, will lessen the burden of grief’s grip, and forever keep us connected.

Heather and Patrick with grandma in 1987
Heather and Patrick today. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Blooming Where I Didn’t Want To Be Planted

The Christian mountaintop experience. That's where I lived out the first few years of my faith journey.

As a new Christian, I was on fire for the Lord. I volunteered on two mission trips. I was involved in Church ministry. I worked hard to flourish and strive in the church that I regularly attended.

But I became an “attention junky" and wanted my works to be noticed by others. After all, I was a people pleaser by nature, and people pleasers don't know how to say no. They just know how to please, right?

Then, bang!  Life as I knew it came crashing down. My Christian daughter had come out gay. I now no longer wanted to be noticed by others; I wanted to, instead, run and hide from them.

So, I fell off the mountaintop and spiraled down into a dark, lonely valley, where I wandered aimlessly for a couple of years, engulfed in shame and guilt. I became envious of what other families had. I threw pity parties to God, about the soil He had now planted me on. I’d show up to church, and when others asked how I was doing, I’d put on my fake smile and say, "Oh, I am doing great!" All the while I felt spiritually barren inside.

But then, one day, something happened to change the course of my life. Maybe God had gotten tired of my whining. Because as I laid there on my bedroom floor, crying out to Him to change my daughter, a calm, still voice whispered into my spirit: "Maybe it's you who needs to change." I was startled by this revelation. I hadn't taken the time to look deep within, to reconnect with God, because I was too busy complaining about my circumstances. But this rekindling of spirit gave me the insight to not only reassess my path but to look at life from a new perspective, in which, I found myself at a spiritual crossroad.

"Don't take the road to the left. It's the wide path of destruction," some warned. "Take the road to the right. It's the narrow path to righteousness." What they were saying was that if I embraced the true identity of my daughter, I would lose the sanctity of God.

But God, surprisingly, led me straight through the crossroad, on a lesser-known path. A route that taught me about the humbleness of treating others as I would want to be treated. And in doing so, I began to bloom where I didn't want to be planted.

In this season of blooming, I experienced, what I call, a “spiritual growth spurt." You see, God couldn't teach me what I needed to know on the mountaintop. For two reasons: (1) I had become too proud of what I knew. (2) I cared more about what others thought of me than what God thought of me.

God's grace brought me through the valley, intact. He taught me that, in life, even if the road is lonely, we are never truly alone with Him.

Today I am less judgmental and more inclusive. I no longer moan and groan about my daughter's sexual orientation. In fact, I see my gay child as a gift, a gift that has taught me so much about life, about myself, and about others.