Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Put On Your Own Shoes

I have been pondering the sorrows of many who have lost a spouse, myself included.  There is indescribable pain in losing someone you love so deeply.

My mom passed away six months before my husband.  I remember feeling such great sadness at her passing.  I remember feeling so lost without her…then my husband died…wow…and I thought I couldn’t feel deeper sorrow…now I know a deeper, indescribable sorrow that causes you to physically hurt…it’s the kind of sorrow that brings you to your knees…you curl up in the fetal position and sob uncontrollably…

I do not know the sorrow that comes from losing a child.  I have never lost a child, nor do I wish to ever have that happen!  I can only imagine the pain and sorrow which follows…I pray I NEVER have to face that loss.

My dad and I have had many conversations about the death of our spouses.  At first, I was frustrated at how he kept saying I can’t believe this happened…how could she have died?  My initial thoughts were, “Seriously, dad?  You can’t believe she died? Death doesn’t come as unexpected when you are in your 70’s.  At least you had 52 years in mortality with her.  At least, your reality is that you will see her a whole lot sooner than I will see Paul. My husband died when I was in my 40’s…mom was in her 70’s…I might be here another 40 years without him…you might be here another 10 years (not likely because of health).  At least all your children are raised…I still have young children to raise. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that his loss was just as significant to him as was mine to me.  I am ashamed to say that I even thought those things. You may lose your spouse after only 3 months or it might be 60 years later.  I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter when you lose your spouse, it IS PAINFUL.

I have also come to realize that everyone grieves differently.  Some people grieve longer than others.  Some people appear to not grieve at all.  It is not my place to judge anyone else for the way they choose to handle their grief.  It is my responsibility to love unconditionally.

Recently, I have thought a lot about the sayings, “you can’t understand a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” or “don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”  I have come to the realization that even if you were to put on another persons shoes, your experience would be different.

What if your feet are larger or smaller than the shoes?  What if your arch is higher? What if your feet are wider or narrower? Realistically, your feet would fit in those shoes very differently than the person originally wearing them.  You would feel things differently, because the shoes fit differently.  Therefore, your experience would not be the same. In order to have the exact same experience in those shoes, they would have to fit you exactly the same way.  That is not realistic, because even if your feet were almost exactly the same…they are not the same. 

Let’s take this a step further and say you even wore the same size of shoe as someone.  You were each given the same pair of new shoes to wear at the same time.  Would your experience wearing those shoes be the same? Not likely.  You still have differences in your feet.  No two people have exactly the same feet.  There may be just small differences, but differences nonetheless.

So it is with experiences in life.  Even if two people could be given the exact same trial to deal with, it would be felt and handled differently.  We all have different personalities; different life experiences; different perceptions about life.  It is those things that influence how we deal with our life circumstances.

I have learned that while the sorrow from the experience of the death of my spouse may be different than someone else’s, I still know sorrow.  I do not know the depth of someone else’s sorrow nor can they know mine.  But what we both know is that we are hurt and sad.  We can focus on commonalities.  We can show compassion and empathy towards others just simply because we understand pain. Knowing that we cannot completely understand how someone is feeling, we can still do our best to support and love unconditionally.  We can follow the teachings of our Savior and just “mourn with those who mourn”.

There are many types of loss in life.  Some may experience it through death, divorce, illness, work lay-offs, etc… All loss causes a form of suffering. Some people may want someone to talk to them.   Many people just need someone to listen to them.  Some people may want visitors and others may prefer to be alone. 

I know that it can be difficult to know how to help someone who is grieving.  The best advice I can give is to let the Holy Spirit guide you.  If you pray to specifically to know the needs of another, God will guide you through the Holy Spirit.  It may be something as simple as letting them know you are thinking of them…it can be through a card…it can be in person….of course food is always welcome!  Sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most.

It is not our responsibility to attempt to put on someone else’s shoes and judge them or try to completely understand how they are feeling.  You can never walk in another person’s shoes and have the same experience!  You will never completely understand. You don’t need to walk in someone else’s shoes to show compassion and empathy.  You can put on your own shoes, with all the experiences they have provided you, and walk beside them and help them through their trials!

I have been blessed with so many kind, compassionate and understanding family members and friends.  I am grateful they wear their shoes and I wear mine and we walk together side by side. For this I will be eternally grateful!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Trusting God

I have discovered one of the biggest challenges in this life is to REALLY trust God. It is easy to say that I do, but can be very hard to actually put into practice.  When trials, like the death of my spouse, come into my life I have been tested to see where I really stand.  

Time and time again, I have seen the hand of God in my life.  He is guiding my life.  So why don’t I always trust Him?  Why do I “fight” his guidance? I have been pondering these questions a lot recently.

I have come to realize, trust is more than believing that God is directing your life and has a plan for you.  It is trusting that, with God’s help, you can endure the direction your life is headed.  It is trusting that I will receive the best outcome for my personal plan and growth. Therefore, trusting God is really a three step process.  First, I must trust that God knows my plan and is directing my life.  Second, I must trust that He will guide me through the path placed before me.  Third, I must trust the end result will be what is best for me.

I have discovered that, more often than not, I trust God is directing my path.  However, I have lacked, at times, the trust that He will help me on my path.  I forget that He can and will help me to get through the loneliness, sadness, pain, etc… I have also struggled with the third part of trust. It is hard to trust God because it is hard to visualize that something so painful can turn out to be the best thing for me.

Let’s face it, we all want to feel loved; most of us don’t want to be alone; we don’t want to feel sadness; we don’t want to hurt.  Many of the things we face in this life cause us to feel these undesired—downright painful—emotions.  Even though we may know the outcome will be in our best interest, we still try to avoid things that will cause us pain to get to that point.  That is human nature. God understands why we struggle with trusting Him completely. 

One of my favorite books is called “The Lord Looketh on the Heart”, by Max & Bette Molgard.  I would like to share a story from that book.  It is an old Arab Legend that can help us to understand God’s panoramic view. 

“The great prophet Moses was visited by angels and invited to come to heaven.  While there he noticed God giving orders to some of his angels.  Curious, Moses asked if he could accompany an angel on his mission.  The Lord was reluctant at first to send Moses, claiming that he would not be able to understand what the angels had been sent to do, but with further pleading he finally consented, with a condition.  Moses must promise not to question the things he would see.  To this Moses agreed and soon found himself flying with the angel down to earth.

They first flew over the water until they came to a small fishing boat upon which seven poor fishermen were trying to catch their daily sustenance.  As they flew nearer, the angel looked upon them and waved his arm.  Immediately the ship broke in half and all seven of the humble fishermen drowned.  Moses was stunned at this and began questioning the angel. The angel reprimanded Moses, reminding him of his promise, and they flew on in silence.

The second circumstance found them flying over the desert near a small village.  Walking down a dusty path was a young boy of about ten.  As they flew by, the angel once again waved his arm and the young boy dropped dead on the path.  Moses was again astonished at the irrational behavior of the angel and began to protest loudly until the angel again silenced him by reminding him of his promise to the Lord.  A quiet but angry Moses continued on the journey with the angel, confused that the Lord would send an angel to work such destruction and sorrow upon innocent people.

The third episode involved a small family living on the outskirts of a large city.  Along the caravan road entering the city lived a poor widow and her only son.  They were desperately poor and lived solely upon the meager harvest of a small garden scratched into the dust of their backyard.  The garden was alongside an old stone wall erected to separate the home from the caravan route into the city.  As Moses and the angel flew by, he once again waved his arm, and the stone fence fell into the widows garden, destroying all the produce.  At this unexpected turn of events, Moses could no longer be silent in his protesting and the angel took him back to heaven and to the Lord.

Moses asked the Lord why he would do such things, and the Lord reminded him of the warning that he would not be able to understand the workings of God.  After further protests, the Lord decided the only way to teach Moses would be to send his again with the angel, this time to see things he had not seen before.

Once again Moses and the angel flew over the water where the fishermen had perished.  Debris and wreckage still floated on the surface of the water.  As Moses watched, he saw something that he could not see the first time.  Far over the horizon, just barely in view he noticed another boat.  The angel allowed Moses to see what would have been had he not been sent of God.  The other boat was full of pirates, and Moses knew that the fishermen would have been captured, tortured, and sold into slavery had the Lord not in his mercy chose to bring them home.

They then passed the young Arab, still lifeless along the desert path.  Moses was allowed to see that later that same afternoon this young boy would have accidentally killed his brother.  According to the custom of the village, he would have been disowned by his family and made an outcast in the town, being forced to make his living begging in the streets until death from disease freed him from his misery.

Finally, they flew over the widow’s garden, where the woman and her son were struggling to salvage something from the chaos that was once their garden.  As the young boy dug away the earth under a large rock, he noticed a small cache.  Investigating further he found a small chest.  He called to his mother, and they looked inside and found a treasure trove of jewels and riches enough to provide a comfortable living for them for the remainder of their lives.

With a smile Moses flew back to heaven with the angel.  He finally understood what the Lord had been trying to tell him.

As we consider the legend, the words of Isaiah come to mind: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). “

Trusting God means I will not always understand why things happen.  Trusting God means letting go of what I think or thought should happen. Trusting God means that I need to have faith that He knows what is best for me.  Not just for this mortal life, but for eternity.   Trusting God means I have faith He will help me on my path.  Trusting God means I understand that my path may be very undesirable and painful at times, even with his help, but that the end result will be worth it!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Letter to My Love

~ Author Unknown

As I sit in heaven
And watch you everyday
I try to let you know with signs
I never went away

I hear you when you’re laughing
And watch you as you sleep
I even place my arms around you
To calm you as you weep

I see you wish the days away
Begging to have me home
So I try to send you signs
So you know you are not alone

Don’t feel guilty that you have
Life that was denied to me
Heaven is truly beautiful
Just you wait and see

So live your life, laugh again
Enjoy yourself, be free
Then I know with every breath you take
You’ll be taking one for me…

Love you from heaven XOXO

The tears are flowing freely tonight my love.  In fact, I am sobbing uncontrollably at the moment…oh, how I miss you…I miss you more than words can say…I found this poem today...I felt as if it was written just for me.

There are so many things to say…I don’t even know where to begin…I guess I will start with the obvious…I hate that I can’t see you; I hate that I can’t hear you with my ears; I hate that we can’t hold each other; I hate that we can’t laugh together; I hate that the girls cry because they miss their daddy; I hate that you can’t wrestle with Sophie; I hate that you aren’t here to help with the upkeep of the house; I hate that you won’t be here when the girls go on their first dates, learn how to drive, get married; I hate that you can’t be here with the grandchildren; I hate that we can’t walk at Jensen Pond and listen to the ducks laugh at us…okay, the list could go on and on…

I know that hate is a strong word, but I don’t know of another word that can adequately express how I feel…I don’t just dislike that you are gone, or I don’t just feel sad, I hate it!

At times I feel angry at God for taking you.  I work through the anger and then it comes back…I work through it…then it reappears.  I have noticed if I allow the anger to become a part of my life, I cannot feel you with me; I cannot feel peace and comfort; I cannot receive spiritual guidance.  Therefore, I try not to allow anger to become a part of my life.  I know that I must go through the grief process and that anger is one part of it.  I just hate the whole grieving process!  I don’t want to feel this, but I know that I must!  It sucks!

I have felt the deepest sorrow since you have been gone.  I did not really know what true sorrow was.  I have cried so many deep tears…sobbed uncontrollably…prayed that God would let me just fall asleep and I would awake with you…of course, I wake up the next morning to discover that I am still here without you…that this really is not a bad nightmare…this is my new life…

Now, I am just trying to create a new life for us.  I know that our children need me.  I know that I need to be strong for them.  I will do everything I can to ensure they have a great life.  I want them to know that we can still find joy and happiness in life even after bad things happen.  I know that I need to focus on the positive.

So here are some positives…I love that you still care about me and the children; I love that I can feel you in my soul; I love that you can watch over our family and guide us; I love that you are no longer in pain; I love that you can be with family who already passed away; I love that God is blessing us with help; I love that I am learning of greater spiritual things.

Okay, you know me, trying to be the eternal optimist, trying to be like Pollyanna, I tried to come up with more things that I love than hate about you being gone…didn’t happen.  I guess that should be expected…seriously, who could be truly glad that their best friend is gone…Some days I just don’t want to play the glad game!

I know that you have sent people to me to give love and support.  I have had numerous “angels” show up at my door or call me…just when I needed them the most.  Yes, sorry babe, their rolls tasted as good as yours…why wouldn’t they taste as good as yours…after all, you are the one that shared the recipe and guided them as to how to make them before you passed away…you wanted the legacy of your rolls to continue…since your wife never bothered to learn how to make them…

I receive promptings about where things are placed…like where things are located in the garage in some obscure place…I know those come from you.  I have never had answers so quickly before.  I remember my mom said just before she died that she would speak to us through the Holy Ghost…I know that you are doing the same.  Thank you! 
I think one of the hardest parts about you being gone is watching our children suffer.  They miss you!  I miss you!  We miss you!

I think about you often…I wonder what you are doing…who you are talking to…if the food there tastes better than here…because I know they have food there…there is food there, right?  I wonder how much you miss me…if you miss me as much as I miss you…I know you must miss me, right?

Whenever I wonder about what our reunion will be like when I see you again, I think about the time you worked in Idaho for a month without me.  I remember the weekend you came home…the look on your face as you drove around the corner and saw me standing there…the tears started to freely flow for both of us…that is how I picture our reunion…lot’s of tears and pure joy!

I have wondered if you stand by me and watch me, wishing you could get my attention.  If you feel frustrated that you can see me, but I can’t see you.  I wish that I could just catch a glimpse of you, even for one moment.  By the way, I am still waiting for a dream…I really need to see you in my dreams.  I still have not had one dream with you in it…every night I pray it will happen…every morning I awake disappointed.

I am dreading the next couple of months.  It will be our first Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years without you.  Just the thought of this makes me start to cry.  For the most part, I don’t allow myself to even think about it.  I try to stay in the present! I need to be strong for our kids!  I want them to have as much joy as possible.  Honestly, I know I will not have the joy I used to have with you, but I want to try and allow myself a different kind of joy. 

I still have a hard time listening to music.  It brings out so much emotion in me.  I miss having you here, playing music wherever you were in the house.  I hope that someday I can listen to music again and feel the joy I used to feel.

Oh, how I wish you were here…I seriously miss you…I would love to be able to hold your hand…I would love to be able to laugh with you…I would love to have you tell me I look beautiful…I would love to just see you!

I love you!  Yours forever and ever! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Staying in the present...

While my husband was suffering with his cancer, which eventually led to his death, I had a tendency to look back at the “what if’s” or mostly, I would look into the future and say “what if”?  I have come to realize that the question “what if” only leads to the feelings of sadness, fear, regret, despair, and other undesireable feelings.

During that time, I had a friend who gave me some really great advice.  He counseled me to always stay in the present. It is only when I live in the present that I can use my gift of agency, the right to choose for myself.  I have contemplated that advice and have discovered that is some of the best advice I have received. 

Before we were born , we lived as  spirit children with a loving Heavenly Father.  Heavenly Father’s plan, the plan of salvation, was presented to us in the Council in Heaven.  Satan did not want that plan.  He wanted a plan that would take away our agency.  Because we are all here, we accepted Heavenly Father’s plan and chose to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.

Heavenly Father’s plan gives us agency to make our own choices.  What is the one thing Satan wants to have control over?  If he can gain control over our agency, he is accomplishing his goal…his original plan that was presented in the pre-mortal world.  If we are looking in the past, are we exercising our agency? If we are looking into the future, are we exercising our agency? No, in both cases.  The ONLY time we can exercise our agency is in the present.  We can’t change the past…we can learn from it…but can’t change it.  We can’t change the future…it has happened yet.

When we stay in the present, we are able to make choices.  We can deal with the issues at hand.  We can make wise choices that will lead to a better future.  Life is not so overwhelming.  I don’t get the deep despair as long as I remember to stay in the present!

Obviously, I am not perfect.  My mortal mind gets going and I still have my moments where I look back or I look to the future with “what if’s”. Those old feelings of fear, sadness, despair, and regret come back.  When I start to feel that way, I know that I am letting Satan make my choices for me.  I realize I need to take back that power! Sometimes, I regain taking charge of my agency quicker than other times.

Being in the present brings happiness and joy.  When I live in the present, I am living in the moment.  I notice the funny things my children say; I notice the sun that is shining; I notice the song on the radio; I notice that I love the dirt flying at me while riding my UTV; I notice the things I am grateful for; most importantly, I notice the promptings of the Holy Spirit …

Obviously, by living in the present, my life is not going to be perfect and I won’t feel continuous joy. The scriptures do not say I will have joy all the time!  That is not a part of the plan.  I must have opposition in all things.  It is through opposition that I know sadness vs. happiness, grief vs. peace, etc…

There are things that happen in the present that can be painful or trying or just downright horrible!  You know…like watching someone you deeply love suffer…the death of your spouse...your child crying to you because they feel like they have no friends...going to the dentist. But, once I have made it through the present situation, it is done.  I have learned from it.  I can choose to move forward and experience the next thing in the present…which could be something amazingly great that I missed out on because I was too focused on the past or worried about the future. 

Interestingly enough, I put the phrase “men are they might have joy” in Google to reference the scripture in this blog post (because I couldn’t remember the scripture reference).  The first search that came up was 2 Nephi 2:27 (Book of Mormon).  I went to the highlighted verse and this is what is says:

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

My first thought was, well that was kind of dumb.  It doesn’t say joy in this scripture.  Why did it highlight this scripture?  Then I started thinking…hmmm…my post is about living in the present so you can exercise your agency to choose…so you can find happiness and joy…this scripture is talking about choosing….what do the previous scriptures say?

Then I read verse 25&26: 

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

Coincidence?  Nope. This just confirms to me that it is our agency that enables us to experience joy.  They go hand in hand!  And the only way I can exercise my agency is in the present!

So how does this knowledge help me?  What I have realized is this.  I can cope with life and actually find some happiness and joy if I stay in the present.  Honestly, no words can adequately describe the pain and suffering you feel when you lose your spouse. It is not only difficult to deal with your loss, but you are left to deal with the loss your children feel.  You become a single parent.  You are faced with many challenges you aren't sure that you are prepared to handle.  
If I allow myself to sit and think about the past or future I am focused on just that.  I don’t notice anything in the present.  I miss out on living.  I feel a lot more misery than happiness. I begin to feel deep despair over the loss of my husband.

I have discovered the four main things that help me to stay in the present are prayer, scripture study, service, and gratitude.  These are things I must do daily! All of these things give me spiritual strength.  It is my spiritual strength that helps me to stay mortal mind wants to think about the past and the future.  If one of these four components is missing, I find that I do not maintain my ability to stay in the present.

By staying in the present, it doesn’t mean I don’t look to the future or back at the past.  It would be crazy to think that I can only stay in the present.

In the April 2008, Liahona magazine, Thomas S. Monson says following things we should do:

1.     Learn from the past.
2.     Prepare for the future.
3.     Live in the present.

In this article he says ,” Sometimes we let our thoughts of tomorrow take up too much of today. Daydreaming of the past and longing for the future may provide comfort but will not take the place of living in the present. This is the day of our opportunity, and we must grasp it.
Professor Harold Hill, in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, cautioned, “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.”
There is no tomorrow to remember if we don’t do something today, and to live most fully today, we must do that which is of greatest importance. Let us not procrastinate those things which matter most.

I remember reading the account of a man who, just after the passing of his wife, opened her dresser drawer and found there an item of clothing she had purchased when they visited the eastern part of the United States nine years earlier. She had not worn it but was saving it for a special occasion. Now, of course, that occasion would never come.
In relating the experience to a friend, the husband of the deceased wife said, “Don’t save something only for a special occasion. Every day in your life is a special occasion.”

As stated in 2 Nephi 2:26, I choose to act for myself and not be acted upon!  If I allow myself to dwell in the past or the future, Satan is acting upon me.  The key word here is DWELL!  I am going to learn from the past, prepare for the future, and live in the present!