Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A belated thanks

I don't have time this morning to list all the things I am thankful for this season. However, one person in particular has had my sincere gratitude for the last several days.

That would be Felix Hoffman, the inventor of aspirin.

Why? Well, when a 46-year-old-out-of-shape-body is forced by a young-at-heart attitude to play touch football for the first time ever, that body is gonna ache something fierce.

Yes, it hurts. But it sure was fun!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

To those who mourn

This year, many in my circle of friends will be experiencing the "firsts"...first holidays after the death of one or more dear ones.

When I lost my father, husband and cat (all sudden and unexpected) within just a few months in 2001, and ended up moving several times and changing jobs, plus experienced 9/11 with the rest of the world, my life was a whirlwind of grief. On any given day, I was in several different stages of grief for each of those losses (and more). Some days, these feelings blended together into a big fat black cloud that blocked every ray of light.

Talk about confusing! I didn't know what stage of grief (shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, acceptance) I was supposed to be in. I couldn't tell if I was "making progress" or sinking. When I got to the point that I felt I was in danger of never recovering, I reached out for professional help.

The most important thing I learned from the therapist is that grief is a unique experience for human beings. Each person experiences grief differently, and each loss for that person is experienced differently. It's also unique in the sense that it doesn't follow a linear path like so much else in our lives.

Grief is a spiral. Picture a spiral staircase, only instead of it being the same width top to bottom, it gets wider as you take steps. Oh, and it goes both up and down (this is some whacky staircase).

At the beginning of your grief journey, you may experience the loss acutely every minute. You wake up thinking of your dear one. You feel like crying all the time. But then one day you realize you woke up and had breakfast and were on your way to work before you thought about it. A while later you are back to crying, but it's not all the time. Then a holiday or milestone hits and it seems like you are back to the first step.

You're not. You are on a different step, higher up and farther out from the center, with a bigger gap between episodes each time they come around. The first Christmas (birthday, anniversary or other milestone) is horrible, the second one awful, the third one not as bad, and so on. If you are walking up that spiral staircase, you're making progress.

But if you're walking down the staircase, you find that it ends in a dark circle. Your grief stages rotate and you experience them over and over again and the gaps between them never get wider. You're stuck. That's where I was when I reached out. The therapist helped turn me around, sending me back up that staircase.

I'm still on that staircase. I am on the step where I mostly smile when I think of Dad or Daniel (I'm pretty much over the loss of Stanley the cat). But I still wish they were here. Dad would be getting a kick out of giving the little ones Christmas gifts that their parents would not like (drum sets, trampolines). Daniel would eat too much and give me a lame gift (like the $2 bill I still carry in my wallet).

To my friends who mourn, know that you shall be comforted. Know that it will get better. Know that the pain you are feeling now is normal and healthy and will lessen in time, as long as you keep walking up. If you find yourself walking down, reach out. Help is available. Prayer, of course, can bring comfort. But God puts people in our lives to help too. People who write things like this.

And if you are already stuck in the dark at the bottom of the staircase, it's never to late to turn around. As long as there is life, there is hope of recovery.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

How do you define success?

The other day a young man I know was pondering the level of "success" he has achieved so far. He is just out of college, working two jobs and living on his own. But he seemed to be down about his life because he was comparing himself to an acquaintance who was a bit older but had many more (worldly) achievements - owns his own house, runs a business, is engaged to be married.

Many years ago a friend of mine was mocking a family we knew. She said that their idea of success is being able to take a two-week driving-trip vacation every year. I remember thinking "good for them...they are successful".

So how do you define success, when it is all relative...either to somebody else or your own idea of what success means? By making the right comparison.

Every day, measure your success by comparing your life to the life God wants you to lead. If God gave you a report card for your day, what kind of grades would you get? How did you use the gifts He gave you today? What kind of Spirit did you project to those around you? What did you do for others?

Somehow I doubt there would be grades on God's report card for how much money you made, what kind of car you're driving or the size of your house. These are worldly measures, always relative and always fluctuating (you get the nice house, but then your brother gets a nicer one, so yours isn't good enough anymore).

It's not easy to ignore the world's idea of what constitutes success, especially in our country. But knowing you are measuring up to what God expects of you is a much more peaceful way to live.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A special day and a special man

Veteran's Day is one of those holidays that I used to jokingly refer to as "pseudo-holidays" because, if I didn't get the day off of work it couldn't be a "real" holiday, could it? But this year I had reason to reconsider my selfish, stupid attitude as I said goodbye to a very special man.

I knew my father-in-law Teofil had fought in World War II, and had been injured in Italy. Daniel told me a little, but his dad didn't like to talk about the war. It wasn't until his recent passing when I got to see his medals and hear more of the story that I truly understood what men like him were made of.

World War II was the biggest war in history, spanning much of the globe and resulting in the deaths of more than sixty million people. Teofil was almost one of them. He was shot and put back on the front line twice before his final injury. He was left for dead in one of the biggest campaigns of the war, the Battle of Monte Cassino. Fortunately for so many of us, his story didn't end on that battlefield. He was found, he recovered, and went on to live a long life.

Although his war experience was no doubt a defining factor of the man he was, it was only one part of his life. The man I will remember is a composite of that quiet war hero plus the hard worker (35 years of hauling the mail), dedicated churchgoer and generous father and grandfather. Beyond all that, my memory of this fine man will always be colored by love stories.

As Daniel told it, his father had to wait four years to marry his mother. Lottie had tuberculosis and had to spend a long time in a sanitarium. As a woman, the thought of a man waiting that long because he had chosen me...well, it makes my heart flutter.

But my favorite image, the one that makes me smile to this day, is from my husband's childhood. I once asked Daniel what his happiest memory was. Without hesitation he said that he never felt more happy, more safe, more warm, than when he would curl up on his father's lap. He wished he was a boy again so he could have that feeling just one more time.

Teofil, Lottie and Daniel are together now, resting in communion with our Lord. Their earthly lives are over, but they live here still in the hearts of the people who loved them.

The story of this man is not unique. The people of his generation fought one kind of war, and the people of our time are fighting another kind. All veterans, especially those who saw battle, deserve our respect, honor and and every day.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

God Bless America

I have purposely not looked at the election results yet this morning. No matter who the winners and losers are, no matter who runs Congress now...we still live in, what Michael Medved calls every day at the end of his radio show, "the greatest country on God's green earth."

I proudly wore my "I Voted Today" sticker on my sweater all day yesterday. It reminded me that, while voting is a right, living in this country is a privilege. I vote because I can. And I can because of people like my father-in-law, who passed away a few weeks ago. I'll write more about him soon.

My thoughts of him yesterday were of the sacrifices he and others like him made. His blood was left on the fields of battle in World War II, which allowed me to walk into a room and cast a vote for the kind of country in which I want to live.

And I thank God every day that I live here.