Petrichor

Petrichor – the smell of rain on the dry ground. Any Dr. Who fan reading this is smiling and knowing where I learned that word. But seriously, as someone who loves words, how did I not know for 40 years that this incredible smell had a name?!

Tonight we could smell it on the air. The storm clouds were dark and foreboding on the horizon and petrichorwafted through the windows and the screen door. The day had been hot and full of emotion and the cool wind and fantastic smell seemed to calm everything down. Petrichor smells like change.

Today was the last day of school. Today was a day of closing chapters and it was a day spent trying to further beautify my house for potential buyers. My fantastic friend, Kellie, again gave of her time and her organizational gifts to help out. This time she helped my eldest son work a miracle in his room.

When I ooh’d and aah’d at the transformation, she shrugged as if it was no big deal. No big deal to help a teen who was trying his best NOT to be bothered that she was messin’ with his stuff. No big deal to bring order to chaos. No big deal to bless me, asking for nothing in return.

Today was a day when I felt wholly inadequate at expressing gratitude to the extent it was needed. Today I thanked teachers, principals, school secretaries, and paraprofessional aides, for the amazing amounts of support and care they have given my kids and I. Today I said goodbye to most of them as we will be in new schools this fall if the sale of my house happens. New chapters will be opened.

But these schools have been fantastic in the midst of grief. Even before that they were fantastic in autism and the daily grind of middle school and elementary school. But in the midst of the greatest crisis my family had ever faced, they stepped up to support and assist in ways far beyond their job titles. How do you adequately say “thank you” for that?

Danny Janklow, the principal at North Middle School, responded to my thank you with a smile and simple, heartfelt words: “Thank you for sharing your children with us.” I cried. Chandra Spotted Eagle, vice principal, made sure someone took a picture of mom and Ryan together and then gave me a long hug. Michael Deming promised to get me all the contacts I would need to get Kati the best start at South Middle School this fall once we got settled in our new home. Secretaries told me I would be missed but that I would make a place for myself at the new schools just fine. Teachers gave hugs.

When I arrived home, still reeling from all this support and love, I discovered someone had anonymously left flowers in a pot on my doorstep. Ryan had wanted to plant more but with the move, I’d been putting him off. Now he has something to tend that perhaps I won’t kill.

Tonight I am blessed and feeling less shaky on the precipice of the unknown before me. Tonight I am grateful for the connections God has helped me make and a little bit more confident I can make more in the coming school year at new schools. I am a little more optimistic someone will love my house enough to buy it and all will go well with moving us into a fresh place for fresh starts.

Petrichor smells like a fresh beginning, a clean slate, I think. It was the perfect smell to end a day like today.

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A Week of Closing Chapters

Lucy, 2014 & Jarod, 2005

It’s been a while since I was at something that made me think, Kraig’s missing this. Today it happened at Lucy’s Kindergarten Spring Sing as I watched my adorable little princess looking so grown up as she sang with the other littles. It was only yesterday I watched Jarod do a Kindergarten graduation wasn’t it? Today I took him to lunch to celebrate surviving his Freshman year. Surviving seemed the right word.

When the thought hit me the tears rose, unbidden, and I struggled to keep my smile in place as I wiped them away. I was in the front row and Lucy could see me. Her brow furrowed a bit in the middle of “B-I-N-G-O.” This was no time for grief. Get out of here, I thought.

I’ve long loved the song “Blink” by the band Revive. It seems to sum up parenting so well.

Teach me to number my days, and count every moment before they slip away,
Take in all the colors, before they fade to gray.
I don’t want to miss, even just a second more of this.
It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash,
It happens in the time it took to look back,
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time,
What is it I’ve done with my life?

This was not a year I wanted to freeze. This was a year I wanted to survive. This was a year I wanted them to survive. It was a year for creating a new definition to normal and walking through grief. And yet it was another year of their childhoods that flew by in a blink. They are now another year taller, another year older, and another year closer to leaving my nest.

This week I will attend ceremonies to see my Kindergartener turn into a First Grader; my Sixth Grader into a Seventh; and my Eighth Grader into a Freshman. They dispose of such silliness in high school until the big enchilada. I settled for a Mom & Me date to Z’mareks (one of Jarod’s favorites) to celebrate the end of the worst Freshman year EVER.

This week I also saw the end of an incredible blessing. It was the final day that Jim gave Jarod a ride to school. Kraig died in the second week of this school year leaving me with a school day conundrum (among many others)—how to get all four kids to three schools by 8:00?  I have no idea what Rapid City was thinking with that scheduling nightmare. Before he died, we thought we had it figured out: I’d drive or walk Lucy to Kindergarten at the end of the block. The middle schoolers would walk to the other end of the block. Kraig would drive Jarod on his way to work. Easy. Except now….

In stepped Jim. Jim is married to my friend and mentor, Deb, and dad to one of my dearest friends, Chelsea. With his calm manner and his gentle Texas drawl, it’s no wonder Jim has often stepped up to mentor young men through his life. Jim heard about my scheduling problem and offered to drive Jarod to school every morning until the year ended or Jarod got his driver’s license. He told Chelsea it would be nice for Jarod to have another man in his life if he needed to talk.

It was an incredible gift.

Jim doesn’t work or live anywhere near us. His home is nestled in the hills on the outskirts of the west side of town. His office is on the west side of town. We live on the north side and Jarod’s school is downtown. Jim goes in early to his office and during the morning rush it was probably 15-20 minutes to get here from there. But every morning, in rain or shine or snow (and oh my word did that include a lot of snow this year), Jim showed up outside my door with a smile to drive my eldest son to school. He took a good 30-50 minutes out of his morning to help me and get to know Jarod.

He’d arrive each morning with a smile and take a moment to teach our dog to sit and not jump on him. He’d give me a fatherly hug and a kiss on the cheek and ask how I was today, looking into my face to see the answer as well as hear it. If he could see it wasn’t a good day he’d assure me it would get better. If I could only muster an “ok,” he’d assure me in his gentle Texas drawl, “That’s alright. Ok’s better’n not.”

He’d hug my girls and wish the boys an enthusiastic good morning. He’d tell Lucy how much he loved her, acting as another grandpa when her’s are so far away. He never judged my messy living room. He’d wait patiently for Jarod to gather his things. We’d chat about our pending days or he’d share random bits of advice from his years as a father. As Jarod grabbed his coat, Jim would ask if he had everything—instrument? Cell phone? Water bottle? And then he’d wish us a good day and take Jarod to school.

In a few days Jarod will try for his driver’s permit and next year the plan is for him to drive both Ryan and himself to school while I drive the girls from our new house. Another chapter that might be closing is on this house if I can find a buyer. I’ve found the new house. Now we wait for this one to move.

I sit here today typing and feeling a little melancholy that a few of these things are ending. And yet I feel as though we are battle worn and starting to heal. I will miss Jim’s morning visits. I will miss living on the same street as two wonderful schools that I’ve developed such good relationships with. And I’m sure there will be more days when the thought, Kraig’s missing this will rise in my heart. Graduations and weddings and concerts and plays—all these things seemed to rush at once into my mind today as I saw my tiny princess with a flower in her hair singing her heart out in the front row.

Life will go on. And I will number these days and try to count every moment before I’m taking her to lunch after her freshman year.

A Good Memorial Day

Today was a good day. It could have been terrible or sad or both. Today is a day people think of fallen veterans and departed family and visit grave sides. We went hiking instead.

We visited the Badlands. It was a place we’ve loved to take the kids for years but oddly enough last year we never made it out there. I think that helped it be a good choice for today. There were no fresh memories with Dad here. Lucy didn’t even really remember this place. To her it was a vague memory enhanced by a visit to a photo album.

Today I tried to do things differently. We didn’t stay long at the visitor’s center. We chose different places to picnic and hike at the start of the day. I passed up places we “always” went. Today was a day for new adventures with a touch of the familiar.

We were treated with several firsts today—a gift from God perhaps to help today be a new experience?

We fed prairie dogs right out the window of the van! That’s never happened before. The kids crammed out the windows to toss grapes and lettuce and at least pretend we were trying to feed them things the game wardens would approve of. I kept glancing on the horizon for any official vehicles arriving to make us stop while the giggles and requests for the camera kept coming. One little prairie dog even sang for his supper. Either that or he was yelling, “Hey! I want a piece of that action!”

We saw mountain goats on the ridges as we came to stopped traffic around a bend. We don’t remember ever seeing them this close before. Kati even saw a mom with a baby.

As we arrived in the last portion of the park to get out and hike, we were greeted with the most breathtakingly beautiful views I think we’ve ever gotten here. It was certainly the most green and lush we’ve ever seen the Badlands. A winter with record snowfall and wet days in the past weeks have been rewarded with bursting green growth and astounding contrast in the hills of yellows and reds bursting forth where normally a sea of tans awaits. It was phenomenal.

I watched as my own little mountain goats romped and climbed higher and higher until I had to shout out for them to return. A storm was moving in on the horizon and I wasn’t sure I wanted them perched precariously on a precipice with thunder rolling softly in the distance.

Today was a good day.

At dinner I decided I should tell them how some people who’ve lost a loved one celebrate today. They agreed this was better. Dad would have liked this better. Still grief snuck up on one of my children at bedtime. Ryan, because of his autism, keeps looping back to the night his father died and wrestling with his shock, anger, hurt, and so on. Today reminded him of Dad’s absence. But at least it didn’t hit him until the quiet of bedtime.

On another day I will ask one more time if they want to help me scatter Kraig’s ashes or just want me to take care of it. It’s time. It’s past time. On another day we will go pick out rocks to have engraved as monuments for Dad to keep in our garden. I’ve decided this is a more personal tribute than a cold cemetery they will never want to visit. Those things can wait for another day.


Today we laughed. We hiked. We climbed until Mom either couldn’t keep up or demanded for safety-sake they come back to earth. We fed prairie dogs and played “what do you see in that cloud” on a long drive.

Today was a good day.

 

Glorious Unfolding


As promised in my last blog entry (Lightening My Load), here is the blog that I almost didn’t post. Praying it provides continued encouragement to others struggling to continue walking through grief.
I sit here tonight doing what I’ve done often since Kraig died. I’m listening to songs that remind me of truths I know at the core of my very being. Tonight it’s Nicole Nordeman’s version of Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus and Steven Curtis Chapman with Glorious Unfolding. Since the day after Kraig died I’ve turned to music when I’m struggling. When I’m feeling lost I’m careful to choose ones with words solid in their declarations of God’s promises and beautiful in their poetry. I rock out to other stuff on the good days.
Tonight the thread of hope seems thinner somehow. My friend, Chelsea, today reminded me it’s OK that grief seemed to grip my heart for no reason. It snuck up on me this weekend mowing the lawn as I was hit by the vast number of dandelions populating my yard. Realization that Kraig took care of them each year dawned on me. As I started to wonder how I’d figure out what he used the sob rose in my chest as my heart protested, “But I don’t want to have to take care of this…this one more thing I must figure out.” I was glad the mower was loud and the kids couldn’t hear me sobbing as I hurried to finish the yard ahead of a storm.
Both Saturday and Sunday had some hard moments in the midst of really good stuff. I think that might be why I feel lost—nothing other than dandelions seemed to cause this. Maybe stress of trying to prepare to move played in there as well. That’s stressful under the best of circumstances. And the best of circumstances these are not.
Tonight as I struggled to make it to bedtime, I had to deal with not one but three kids coming up between 9:30 and 10. One sobbing as the reality that Dad would not be here to share in the fun we have planned this summer. One looking for the bathroom and not knowing why she was crying—probably because her brother was. One asking for prayer because scary thoughts were plaguing him as he tried to fall asleep.
“Oh weary mind, Oh troubled soul, all the broken pieces that you hold, turn them over, give them up, and then watch what Jesus does. Oh heavy heart, Oh heavy load, lay it down and let it go, leave your broken yesterday in the open arms of grace….” Nicole sings these words and I reach for them like a salve for a wound. Not once has my faith wavered but this journey is long and exhausting and just when I think I’m emerging from it, another wave crashes on my shore.
“You will walk on waves again, when you have set your gaze on him.” Promise, Nicole? Walking on the waves seems so beyond the possible right at this very moment. “So look up, look up, this is a song about the morning after a long night. So look up, look up, this is a song about believing it’s gonna be alright, when you turn your eyes upon Jesus….” I long for the morning after this long night. I’m tired, so very tired.
As my exhausted body begs for sleep I turn to another song, a newer song. I hope to be able to meet Mr. Chapman at this summer’s Hills Alive music festival when I work it. As a DJ sometimes I get to do that. I want to thank him for the first verse of his newest song, Glorious Unfolding.
Lay your head down tonight
Take a rest from the fight
Don’t try to figure it out
Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart
‘Cause I know this is not
Anything like you thought
The story of your life was gonna be
And it feels like the end has started closing in on you
But it’s just not true
There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding
Those words speak to my heart with clarity. I need to lay my head down tonight trusting that God is unfolding something beyond what I could ask or even imagine. How do people without Jesus cope with loss? I cannot fathom the despair that must be magnified without an anchor in the promises that I am not alone and I am not directionless. “Let us remember, this life we’re living is just the beginning of the beginning…” The eternal perspective Steven sings about is truth, is life, is hope.
So tonight I will finish writing and head to bed, trusting once more that tomorrow God will help me care for my kids and direct my paths because I trust Him. He has never failed me and He won’t start now. He will bring the joy and help these wounds continue to heal. He will continue to send me friends and family to offer support and help. He will continue to direct my path because I have asked Him to. Where He leads, I will follow no matter where that path leads.
One day I will look back and see the gloriously unfolding story He walked me through because I kept my eyes on Jesus. For tonight all I need to do is trust Him and get some sleep.

Lightening My Load


Last night I wrestled with grief, yet again. It was a rocky weekend for unexpected reasons. Writing helps me work through my grief, my process, my faith. I finished a blog that was, in my humble opinion, pretty well written. But I did not post it.
I thought, I’m tired of writing about grief! I’m sure my friends are tired of reading about it. I’m not sure I should post this. I know that this is what I’m walking right now and writing honestly about what you know is the most powerful form of personal story. But wrestling with grief is exhausting. It’s heavy and it saps your energy. I want to write about funny or sweet again. I want to shake grief off my shoulders like an ugly coat. I want to write about sunshine and unicorns and butterflies. OK, maybe not that last sentence.
I started today trying to shake the heaviness of feeling low by exercising and going to coffee with a friend. I shared with her why I hadn’t posted what I’d written. She agreed this must be exhausting. It’s exhausting for her just walking next to me and helping me through this. She wasn’t complaining but she understood.
And then God sent me a reminder of why I’m still writing about my process of grief. It came in the form of a Facebook message from a stranger. Tears filled my eyes as a woman in Florida whom I’ve never met but who teaches my niece and nephew sent me a note of encouragement.
“…I have kinda kept up with your story because of your sisters. I started reading your blog just because they had shared it with me and I was interested. I have laughed, cried, and ran the gamut of emotions. Your way with words and total honesty had me floored from the beginning. I have learned a lot about the grieving process through you. Funny how God gives us what we need before we even know we need it. Exactly 2 weeks ago, my sister received the devastating news that her husband was killed on the job out of town. I went into immediate action & drove the 3 hours to be with her. We traveled to North Carolina to retrieve his belongings and I talked about your blog along the way. Because of you I knew some things to say (& not to say) and knew how to help her with the terrible tasks that needed to be tended to. I have shared your blog with her & I know it will begin to help her heal…little by little. I just wanted you to know I appreciate you & wanted you to know YOU are making a difference.
Oh how I needed that today. And as I finished reading it I was reminded of the other people who have told me they know someone I don’t who is following my blog. There’s the friend in Michigan who asked my advice on what NOT to say to a friend suffering loss. There’s my late-husband’s cousin in Indiana who is reading it, I’ve heard, as she struggles through a different kind of loss. The tears could not be contained but now they were accompanied by a smile.
I share her note not to brag about my abilities but to point to a God who brings us what we need, when we need it. I was feeling this might be pointless. I was feeling my words might be, well, actually, annoying. God whispered today a reminder into my heart that He is using my pain to help others. That has been the cry of my heart from the start. If I cannot use what I’ve gone through to show others how faithful He is, what is the point? If I cannot show that Jesus runs to the brokenhearted, then this struggle is meaningless.
So I guess I might post what I wrote last night. Because somewhere there is at least one mom struggling to deal with the sudden loss of her husband as she shepherds little hearts. Maybe she needs to hear what she’s feeling is normal and there is hope. Maybe she needs to hear from another mom that this will start to get better but that it takes time. Maybe she needs to hear that Jesus loves her and is willing to walk through this with her.
Oh that God would continue to use my words to help others dealing with grief. That makes it a little more bearable. That lightens my load.

Happy Mother’s Day

I had been ordered back to bed by my daughters, insisting they were making me breakfast in bed even though I’d been up for an hour. I played along. I’d never had breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day before. I felt a lot like I’d stumbled into Downton Abbey. The only difference may have been my bedroom in no way gave the appearance of my having a cleaning staff.

Since the girls knew they’d need to finish final preparations for my “surprise,” they laid out my cell phone and iPad on the night stand so that I’d have plenty to entertain me while I waited. It was cute.

I had just opened Facebook when a tiny hand covered my eyes. I started to protest that I could just close them. Her fingers were freezing. But she would have none of it—she needed to make sure this was a complete surprise. Instead of fighting it I focused on the feel of a tiny hand that is getting bigger every day. The end of her palm rested next to the edge of my right eye and her fingertips came half way across my left. The hand was too small to cover both eyes. But I could hear a giggle escape as her sister came into the room. I tried to capture this moment and freeze it in my mind.

A tray was placed on my lap and Kati told me to open my eyes. Before me was a carefully arranged tray with far too much food but so much love. They’d worked hard on this. On the corner of the tray was my favorite part—four cards wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day had been created by the four not-so-little blessings in my life. Each one was signed with a personal note, some simple and some more elaborate. Lucy’s included two stick figures. She felt the need to tell me that the taller one was me and the shorter one was her. Kati’s included a sweet note I will cherish and keep to myself. The notes from the boys were short but so sweet. 

This is my first Mother’s Day without Kraig. This year is full of firsts like that. Kraig struggled sometimes to make holidays special. It wasn’t the way he was raised but he did try. This morning I felt blessed that the kids had made such a sweet effort. In a little while we’ll wake the boys up and open the gift they got me. My friend Chelsea helped Jarod purchase something they all agreed on yesterday. She wouldn’t let me pay for it. Bless her.

Our tradition for the past three years has been to go to Reptile Gardens on Mother’s Day and get summer passes at a discounted rate and get mine free. I’m not sure we’ll do that today. It’s going to be 42 degrees. But more than that, I’m trying to do some things differently as we walk our new reality. And starting the day off with breakfast in bed was a new tradition I could get used to–especially breakfast prepared with so much love.

Grief is Sneaky but God is Good


Grief is sneaky. As time creates distance from the loss, life returns to normal. Days dawn bright and clear and normal things like chores and watching movies make a Sunday seem blissfully uneventful. And then grief sneaks up in the most unexpected of ways, raw and emotional and cruel.
Today the catalyst was my daughter playing with a friend named Rachel. I was feeling thankful because Rachel’s father was installing a new exhaust fan in the basement bathroom. It was a project Kraig hadn’t finished before he died. Jeremy was giving up a Sunday afternoon to take care of this for me at no charge.
I heard the girls outside arguing so I opened the screen door to ask what was going on. That’s when Lucy explained the problem. They were playing Little Mermaid and Rachel was mad because Lucy wanted to change things. Lucy matter-of-factly explained she wanted to pretend that Ariel’s father had died instead of her mother.
It took my breath away.
I know that children play as therapy. Whether it is dealing with trauma or dealing with stress, play is how they cope. My youngest daughter seemed to have moved past most of her grieving. I think that’s why this hit me so unexpectedly.
I walked away fighting tears, trying to figure out if I should stop her, and trying to catch my breath. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Before I could form a plan of action, the girls had worked it out and moved on. Children are so resilient.
My day suddenly seemed to be quieter, more contemplative. I texted some of my support circle and Rachel’s mom, in case it came up at home later. That helped. I fought the tears off and continued to prep dinner, but a knot settled in my chest, tight and heavy.
As I sat down to write this out and process (which is how I cope), I heard the most wonderful sound. It was the laughter of Jarod and Kati. They were having ridiculous fun playing Minecraft together on our iPads. I heard the laughter and them shouting out randomness like:
“Pig-ina, noooo!”
“The lifeboat sprung a leak! Oh the humanity!”
“Rose, I’ll sacrifice myself for you!”
Ryan walked in and asked Jarod what they were doing. The answer: recreating Titanic with the animals in the Minecraft world. Ridiculous. A tad disturbing. But oh so wonderful to hear.
Grief sucker punched me today but not them. Their dad would have found this Sunday afternoon computer play creative and hilarious. He would have laughed so I smiled. Outside I could hear Lucy playing and singing with Barbies. Ryan sat at the table building a rocket.
I’d love to say that grief and sorrow vanished in an instant at the sound of children happily enjoying a spring afternoon. It didn’t. The knot in my chest remained but it did loosen. And as dinner finished in the oven, a scripture was whispered into my knotted heart. It was from 1 Corinthians 4:7-8: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair….” (emphasis mine)
I don’t despair because of the all-surpassing power of God that is sustaining me. I have been hard pressed but not crushed, perplexed but I do not despair. I serve a God who is trustworthy. When grief sucker punches me I can return to the trust that He knows what He’s doing. He will help me continue to put one step in front of the other. Grief is sneaky, but God is good.