hearts breaking

My second year of teaching, a senior died in a jet-ski accident.

There were suicides.

There was a swimming accident.

There was a drunk driving accident–that one claimed two lives.

I’ve been in those horrible before school emergency staff meetings. The ones where it is horribly quiet and no one is making eye contact with each other.

Grief counselors on site for those who need someone to talk with or to cry with.

I am not down-playing those tragedies. They were awful and they rocked our schools.

But today was a category all it’s own.

This morning I stood in front of my first hour and had to deliver the news that one of the teachers had died suddenly the night before.

Because it is only my second year teaching in the school, and she and I teach different grades, I’ve only chatted with her a couple times, but I knew she was a student-favorite. I knew she was extremely close with much of the staff.

I stood in front of the class thinking I could read the script clearly, but I started to tremble. I knew the words after I said, “I am so sorry to have to inform you…” were going to absolute wreck my students.

And they did.

It was a short paragraph, but the sobs and sniffling started immediately.

They are just children, and someone they loved has been taken from them. Stolen.

Immediately I wanted to shelter my students. I wanted to not read the words. I wanted them to be protected from the pain for just a bit longer.

But I couldn’t. I had to break their hearts.

Those hearts were not alone, though. Immediately we brought kids to the ears and shoulders and arms they needed. Teachers postponed plans. We listened. We shared, but mostly we listened.

Between classes, the halls were quiet for the first few hours. Students found friends and fell into each other’s arms.

Administrators from all the other buildings stopped in.

Past staff were in the halls for faculty and students.

Teachers experienced grief hand-in-hand and side-by-side with their students.

At the end of the day, we were “debriefed”.

Exhausted, tear-stained faces gathered. Those who knew her best shared –and I was once again overcome with the wonderful person she was and how I wished I had gotten to know her better.

We were encouraged to take care of ourselves this weekend because today, we took care of our students first.

It’s what Abbey would have done.

************

Please pray for the students and staff of Wyoming Public Schools and for the family and friends of Abbey Czarniecki.

It Was A Sunday…

It was a Sunday ten years ago.

I’ve told the story over and over. Sometimes with lots of details. Sometimes with almost none.

But I still remember every single detail.

It’s almost all I have.

Cortney had abdominal pain. I went to do his Fantasy Football Draft. Lots of phone calls about coming to his dads. Finally we went.

Just in time to say good-bye.

Just in time to release him from his pain.

Just in time.

Then there was the appendix surgery.

We were still newlyweds. I didn’t even stand when the doctor came out to get the next of kin to come in the recovery room.

I forgot that it was me, not his mother, who should go in.

Temporary bliss of forgetting.

His dad was gone.

“My dad died today,” he told the nurses.

The looks of disbelief that I had to confirm.

Everyone agreed he won “shittiest day ever.”

I had to make phone calls.

“Cortney’s dad died. Cortney had his appendix out.”

That night we slept in a tiny hospital room together.

I couldn’t leave him alone. His dad had just died.

I couldn’t go home alone either. My father-in-law had just died.

It was a Sunday ten years ago.

Today is Friday.

The sad truth is that I really didn’t know him.

The more time that passes, the more I realize, I didn’t know him.

I know he loved me.

I know he was happy I married his son.

But I didn’t get any time. None.

Not once did I sit down and chat with him by myself.

Never were we randomly alone in a room together.

I think of all the family gatherings we have had in the past ten years, and wonder what it would be like to have his jokes and observations and laughter injected into it all.

How significantly would our lives be different?

It’s impossible to imagine.

That impossibility is what hurts the most–the things I will never know.

He was my father-in-law, and I didn’t know him at all.

And yet, every day I think of him.

Every day I miss him.

It was a Sunday ten years ago that my father-in-law died of lung cancer.

IMG_0073

 

Mary

Before having kids, Cortney and I “shopped” for a church home. Most places we went treated us kindly enough–people shook our hands and said, “welcome”, but that was about it. Even our current church was kind, but not overly so. It had been a long time since we had gone regularly and in those days before kids, we were greeted as if we were new.  This sort of bugged Cortney since he had been a member of our church since childhood.

We found a church we thought could be our church home, but by then I was largely pregnant with Eddie, it was winter, and sleeping in on Sunday rather than driving to a church where we didn’t know anyone seemed exhausting.

We had Eddie and Charlie baptized in our current church, and when Charlie was about 18 months old, we started going back regularly.

This time was different than the first time though. This time we were friends with more people and they welcomed us with open arms.

I figured we would just start going to Sunday services and send Eddie to Sunday School. You know, sort of ease in.

Nope. This was not what God planned for us, apparently. He was maybe sick of us “easing in” for the past eight years, so we were thrown right in.

My friend, The Preacher’s Wife, approached me about “helping” with our Sunday School program: Children in Worship. I figured I would be a helper in one of the rooms occasionally, but I found myself teaching right away.

And that is how I met Mary.

lordshepherd

Mary has been involved with the Children in Worship program for as long as it’s been a part of our church. She knows all the stories, knows what story objects go with every story box, what reflection activities each grade did with most of the stories, and she remembers all the children and loves them all individually. She remembers Cortney being in Children in Worship when he was a wee lad.

She was not just kind and welcoming, she was the epitome of love when she heard I would be joining the team. She held my hand and told me she was so glad. She already loved Eddie from his few times, and looked forward to Charlie joining in as well.

When I told her I was pregnant last summer, her eyes filled with tears and her hands went to her face in excited joy. Then she hugged me.

Before Alice was born, she loved her.

When Alice was set to be baptized, The Preacher’s Wife gave her a vintage baptismal gown, but Mary found the idea of making a hankie into a bonnet with this small poem:

I’m just a dainty hanky,
As square as square can be.
With stitches hands have fashioned
A bonnet out of me.

She’ll wear me home, a newborn,
Or for a special day.
Then I’ll be washed and pressed and
so neatly tucked away.

When Her Wedding Day arrives,
She’ll search about I’m told,
To find an item quite small
Of long ago and old.

And when she spots baby’s cap
No better will she see.
Snip out my stitches, and a
Wedding hanky I’ll be.

by Howard Ray White

She came to visit Alice and me in the hospital and gave me a tiny knit hat meant for a great granddaughter she would never have (she has all great grandsons).

She delivered our family a meal when Alice and I were released from the hospital.

She pats the boys on the heads and always asks them how they are. The boys love “Grandma Mary”. She is one of many “Church Grandmas” my children are blessed to have, but she will always be the very first.

Mary is always there with encouragement and unconditional love. She never expects anything in return, but hold my hand each Sunday and asks how I am–and really wants to know. Love and grace ooze out of her very being.

Without Mary’s genuine love and welcoming for my whole family, we may not have stayed regular church-goers and I know I would not be as involved as I am with our church family.

Mary has been described by many as a saint, but I am sure she would brush that off because all she does is love. But that is so much. In fact, it’s the greatest command, Jesus says.

And Mary does it as best as any human can.

At the end of last week, I received some devastating news about our beloved Mary. Once again I would have to sit my boys down and tell them someone we love is going to make a trip to Heaven soon.

Our hearts are hurting for our Mary. For her family. For our own hearts.

It’s hard to see why God would allow something to happen to the best of the best. We don’t understand. We feel that familiar feeling of being lost in a sea of sorrow and questions.

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd has always been a favorite of Mary’s. I can see that she takes it to heart–loving those around her and guiding them to safe places. She certainly guided my heart and family to the safe place that is now our church family.

We hope Mary feels God’s love. We hope Mary feels all of our love and our prayers.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

loss in waves

Last October we lost my cat, Louis.

It was an incredibly painful journey for me since he had been my best friend for 17 and a half years.

Eddie was only two when Louis died.

the last picture we have of Eddie with Louis. Sept 2011

Louis’ health was going downhill quite rapidly and we had an appointment to put him down on a Monday.  We just had to make it through the weekend with him.

Unfortunately, Louis had other plans.

Early Saturday morning while Cort was gone to class and Eddie and I were still sleeping, Louis had a stroke near the island in our kitchen.  He was lying there unable to get up when Eddie and I wandered into the kitchen after snuggling in bed watching cartoons.

Eddie sat on the couch and watched TV while I texted Cort, called my brother and his wife, and called the vet.  In the meantime, I wrapped Louis in a receiving blanket to preserve some of his dignity (he had pooped in his fur) and to keep him warm (he was shaking).

When my brother and his wife arrived, my sister-in-law stayed with Eddie while my brother and I took Louis to be put down.

When we got back, Cort was home from class and we placed Louis in a box to be buried at my parents’ house by the rest of our childhood pets.

And that was it.

It’s been over a year.

We have not avoided talking about Louis.  In fact, we talk about him frequently–especially when cats come up in conversation.

Eddie has asked lots of questions over the past year about where Louis was and how we don’t have a kitty can anymore, but I was not prepared for what happened last night.

Around 9:30pm, long after Eddie should have been sleeping, we heard a thump and a couple minutes later we heard Eddie sobbing in his room.  I mean SOBBING.

I thought maybe he hurt himself, so I hurried down to him.

When I opened the door, he was sitting up in his bed, tears streaming down his face, trying to catch his breath through his sobs.

“Honey! What is the matter?” I asked expecting him to say he bumped his head or something.

“I MISS YOUIS*!!!” he wailed.

It’s like time stopped.  My heart fell down to my feet and tears welled up in my eyes.

“Oh buddy,” I said as I sat down on his bed and pulled him into my arms. “What made you think about Louis?  Did you see a kitty cat?”  My mind raced trying to think of what in the world we had done that day that could have possibly made him think of Louis this late at night.

“I was reading dat book ovah de-ah,” he sniffed as his little finger pointed to a large book on the floor next to his closet.  A book that had clearly been tossed (the thump we heard).  A book that was published in the 50’s and that my grandma used to read to me at her house.  A book that was held together with tape.

A book with large pictures of cats and dogs.

A book with a picture of a group of kittens that look identical to Louis.

“It has a pi-tuh that yooks jus yike Youis!”  He leaned into me and started crying all over again.  “I miss him, Mom. I miss him a yot. I want he come home. come back hee-ah.”

It had been a whole year.

I didn’t think he could possibly have that much connection to a cat he only knew for the first couple years of his life.

But he was crying like it just happened.  Like a wave of loss and sadness had collapsed on him and he was fighting to stay afloat and understand.

I didn’t know how to comfort my little boy.  Louis was one thing I couldn’t bring back to him.

So, because I was crying now too, I pulled the blankets up over us as we held on to each other, and I told him the story of how Louis came to be my kitten.  How he took care of Eddie by laying on my tummy when I was pregnant.

How he paced and meowed whenever Baby Eddie would cry and cry, and wander the house meowing at Eddie’s toys when the baby was sleeping.

How he would find a spot just out of Baby Eddie’s reach to sleep…and keep an eye on Eddie.

or you know, ON the sleeping baby.

How Eddie was the only child in the entire world who could touch his face and pull his fur and tackle him and yet he wouldn’t bite.

and Louis gets away again!

“You-is nevah evah bite me,” Eddie agreed, “but sometime he bite daddy.”

And we giggled.  Because it was true.

“And he run and run in duh house, member, mom?  Member dat?”

“I do remember that, Eddie. I do.”

“Why he can’t come back?  Why he yiv with my Papa and God? Why God want a cat?”

I explained to him that Louis was so awesome, he is the perfect cat for God…who loves awesome stuff.

He had stopped crying by now and was asking some pretty big questions about heaven and God and forever.  In a moment of thoughtful silence he asked me, “Mom? You yay by me for a yittle bit?  Just a yittle bit?”

And I did.

He cuddled into me and told me, “I yike taw-king a you, mom. I yuv you, Mom.”

“I love you too, Eddie.  And you can talk to me anytime. about anything.”

“Tanks, mom.”

As we cuddled and both processed our conversation, I couldn’t help thinking about this mom thing.  Just when I think I have it handled–that I know the in’s and out’s of momming a little boy–he throws something new at me to remind me that I am still new at this.

With each stage, milestone, and new question, I will be newb with Eddie.

From the minute he was placed in my arms, I started to learn, and until one of us is gone, I will always be learning.

I hope I am doing right by him.

I hope I am giving him the comfort he needs.

Have you dealt with a loss with your children?  How did your kids handle it? Was there anything that seemed to make the process easier on them?

I am all for suggestions.

*words are written just like they sound when Eddie says them.  If you need a translation, let me know!

**************

Don’t forget to enter my Babies R Us gift card giveaway here.

And I totally did a craft with Eddie.  And it didn’t suck.  You can read about it here.

a difficult season

When I was born, I only had two living great grandparents: my dad’s maternal grandpa and my mom’s maternal grandma.

I hardly remember either of them.

When Eddie was born he had seven living great grandparents: all except my maternal grandmother.

Cort's Grandma and Grandpa Sluiter meeting Eddie

Four Generations: My dad and me and Eddie with my paternal grandparents

Four Generations: Cort, Eddie, Cort's mom, and Cort's maternal grandpa

four generations: my mom, me, and Eddie with my maternal grandpa

I feel like that is lucky.

Our grandparents are all in their 80’s now.

A new season of life is upon us.

Last Christmas we lost Cort’s Grandpa Sluiter.

This weekend we lost Cort’s Grandpa Potter.

Cort with both grandpas in 2005 (at our wedding)

Cort found strength and wisdom in these men.

Especially over the past seven years of our marriage after his own dad died.

Now all three father figures in his shared bloodline are gone.

Our sons will not remember these men.

I think that is what hurts my heart the most.

Cortney is a strong, brave, wise, witty man.

He has a way with people that puts them at ease.

He is quick with a witty retort.

He is sensitive to his wife’s needs in a way a lot of men are not.

He got those qualities from his dad and grandpas.

This new season we find ourselves in is uncomfortable.

It is the season of adulthood where we both welcome new life and say goodbye to weary lives.

Where we take from heaven and give back to heaven.

It’s a confusing and painful season.

But it reminds us to cherish and love the ones who are here…

Our family (Cort's side) with his maternal grandparents

…because we don’t know how long they have on this earth.

We feel lucky for having them.

And comforted knowing those who have moved on are now in paradise.

You will walk with her again soon, Grandpa.

Until then, we will take good care of her for you.

And when you meet again there will be no cane, no pain, no obstacles.

May Cort and I always hold hands and giggle like we are courting…

just like you and Grandma.

We love you and miss you.

final moments

I sway slowly…waiting.

A tiny, fur-covered figure–a fraction of what he once was–is swaddled in a newborn’s receiving blanket.

“first moments” the tag on the blanket reads.

the irony burns my eyes and the letters blur together.

small snores escape his parted mouth.

I don’t even notice my face is wet until my brother leans in and touches each cheek with a tissue.

thank you for so many years…

thank you for sticking by me while I labored with Eddie…

thank you for staying by my side while I cramped and miscarried.

thank you…

and then…

nothing.

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