Precious memories: Grief and comfort during the holidays


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remembering Jacob- a blessing in a box

Last evening I sat down and went through a shoebox of old family pictures. Not a big deal to most people but for myself it was a step towards healing my grieving heart this holiday season. It was an impetuous decision I made with guarded apprehension knowing the pain I was exposing myself to.

Memories. I suppose most people would assume that parents of deceaced children reminice continually about their child. I don’t know about other grieving parents but I have yet to allow my thoughts to plunge too deep. Don’t misunderstand me, I think of Jacob often every day but the thoughts are only flashes of his life. Small things like his laugh, his love and kindness, his smile, his likes and dislikes in this life. Just small things, small events and quick stops I have made into wealth of my memories that are stored away.

For 417 days I have found it rare to actually think intently through an experience I had with my son. People say, “Oh, you have the memories to cherish.”Yes, but till this day I have pushed down the memories knowing the pain it stirs up within me.

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remembering family Christmas- a shoebox photo

Sifting through a shoebox of photos was a big deal, it is a big step because every captured image speaks a thousand words. There was a time that the images would speak a thousand words of joy and love. But in the infancy of grief the images speak a thousand words of joy and a love that can never be again; the images hurt. This is slowly changing now. This time the words they spoke to me were not so sharp and they didn’t bruise my heart as much; they brought me comfort.

By this I recognize that God is healing my soul and comforting my broken heart.

I don’t believe for a minute that time heals all wounds. I never heard of a parent who got over the death of their child. It is a rediculous notion. Does time  heal the wounds of a soldier whose legs were lost from an IED? He survives, he is scarred for life, he has phantom pains and nightmares the rest of his life. The same is true for us who have had limbs cut off from our souls.

Time for me  is nothing more than a soft cushion between the day of the tragedy and today, December 1st 2015. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but timeless eternity will.

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remembering grandma’s and her girls

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 ESV

I have had 417 days of grief since March 26, 2014. With each passing day the cushion expands and I learn to live without my son. Time passes and grief remains but the cushion makes grief more bearable. I am grateful for the passing time, the healing, and the precious memories of those I love.

I attempted to look through the shoebox about a year ago, I remember that night very well. My wife and I had gone Christmas shopping and I became overwhelmed with grief inside a store. This was our first Christmas without Jacob and grandma. We came home and I went through the same shoebox I opened last night and found myself falling into depression for a couple of weeks.

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remembering shared moments

This year was different, I was able to look with a few tears and a few smiles as the photos jogged my memory. I finished the box and was reaching for another and I stopped myself. “No, that is enough.”I thought.

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remembering a brothers love

I was brought back in time to enough places for one day. I viewed perhaps a hundred photos that communicated a hundred thousand words to my heart- it was enough. I found the memories to be sweet, enjoying and reminiscing of love filled days of my past.

I had my fill, I didn’t get depressed, I am healing and that for that I give thanks to God who promises to mend the broken hearted.

Memories. For me memories are controlled by bridle and bit and I have the reigns in hand. Yesterday I loosened the reigns and galloped for a short refreshing ride to another place and time. When it was enough I pulled in the reigns and came to a full stop and tied the straps to a hitching post.

I will get back on the horse again soon and a little less fearful of the beast I ride. Each time I expect to be a bit more relaxed and willing to loosen my grip on the memories that I have restrained. In time I expect remembering will be a sweet and welcome friend.

Memories. There are many more photo boxes and albums waiting to speak to my heart. Not to mention the countless videos of family gatherings, sporting events, school plays and vacations. Memories are what remain and the memories have brought me pain. Memories are becoming precious to me.  Last Chrismas I ran to the shoebox and was deeply distressed. This Christmas I cautiously opened the same box to find the precious gift of comfort.

 

Precious memories how they linger, how they ever flood my soul. Alan Jackson does the old hymn as good as anyone, have a listen, you will be glad you did.

 

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dhGOFC3kPDcfile:///watch?

 

 

Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter stopped

I have always been a cut up and totally appreciate a good belly laugh. My laughter was silenced for a long time after all the death of my son and 3 other loved ones. I had to think deeply as to the last time that something made me laugh hard enough to make me cry. Then it came to me. We had just finished watching an episode of Bob’s Burgers and were ready to call it a day. The Family Guy came on as we got off the couch and I was about to turn off the TV. I decided a long time ago to not watch this show because it goes over the edge too much for me. Peter Griffin happened to catch my attention that night. I watched about 90 seconds of the episode, turned it off, laughed till I cried as I climbed into bed for the night. The whole thing was a spoof on grief and total nonsense but it made me and my wife laugh hysterically. You may not appreciate it but I still giggle a little when I watch it. Grief needs levity and the sorrowing need their funny bone touched on occasion.

When laughter is inane

There are times in grief that laughter is a great antagonist to the sorrowing. We have days when nothing seems funny. There are solemn days when the laughing people and what they laugh about bring me great irritation. Those times are fewer as I move forward in my journey. I understand better the wisdom of Solomon who said laughter is vainity and madness.  (Ecclesiastes 2:2) The king would also record, “Even in laughter the heart may ache and the end of joy may be grief.” (Proverbs 14:13 ESV) 

When laughter is medicinal

There are certain people I need to see and hear from when I am down. I seem to run into them at the most needed times of my grief journey. These are male friends who have wept with me and have laughed with me in one sitting. A couple of them in particular lighten my heavy load and have a way of extracting laughter out of my soul like a turkey baster. These people are a medicine to me that cannot be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a physician. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV) Somehow these friends make me laugh and refresh my heart when I need it most. I am so thankful to have a few funny friends. Certainly Readers Digest knew something of this natural remedy for sorrowing hearts. I love to read their articles, Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter leaves us

I battle depression from time to time, I have been struggling with it of late. When depressed I lose my laugher. I determined early in grief that I wasn’t going to use medications to help me to cope. Not that I oppose it for others but I personally decided to endure the pain and not sedate it. Why did I make such a choice? Because Jesus Christ endured the sorrow, pain and grief of the world without narcotics or anti-depressants. Isaiah records, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; on him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV) Grief, sorrow, stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded all without pain relievers. Read on.

Isaiah wrote of Jesus 600 years before Bethlehem and the Psalmist records his experience looking down from the cross centuries before the tree ever gave root into the dry ground. “Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine.” (Psalm 69 20-21 ESV) Poison was offered to him but the poison was refused.

Some time ago I had the medical marijuana subject defended by a young user who was not ill or in pain. He made the defense that since the herb is natural that surely God would be supportive of him using. I pointed out the fact that God certainly would never roll a fatty with him and here is the reason why. On the cross while being crushed for the sins of mankind Jesus began to thirst. “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it he would not drink.” (Matthew 27:34 ESV) Jesus was offered a mind altering drug to ease the grief and pain and he refused it. I personally think it best to refuse it too.

When laughter is restored

I believe God has provided us with laughter. But it is somewhat odd to me that Jesus is never recorded laughing in the scriptures. However as a man I surely think that he did laugh. But he is remembered as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our sorrows and our griefs he carried so someday all sorrow would fade away.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Perhaps laughter is the sound of joy that flows from our contented souls. I want to laugh, I need to laugh but laughter for those who grieve children is slow in restoration. Somehow I know that the laughter I once knew will never be restored as it was. But I also know that I can smile and I can laugh more and more as days go by.  Laughter truly is the best medicine but for now my dosage is small with the expectation of more belly laughs are in my future. Someday all I will ever know is joy, till then I have his joy in my heart with an occasional   chuckle to help me along the way.

These things I have spoken to you that you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation;

but be of good cheer

I have overcome the world- Jesus

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Me not laughing 🙂

 

 

 

 

Smiles of sadness; A letter to my deceased son

Dear Jacob,

I have been especially weepy and sad lately. There is a sadness that is with me that dampens my life like a misty morning walk. I think about the family allot, especially you son; mostly of you Jacob. I want to be happy, I laugh and smile on my journey but I have constant sadness in my heart. The smiles are not forced they are real, yet the kind of happiness I once knew died with you and the others. I suppose I cannot recover that kind of happiness ever again. I wish I could regain a cheerful song in my soul again. Someday perhaps, or perhaps never in this lifetime.

I am on a foggy road and sometimes I cannot tell whether it is good or bad. Music drones everywhere and has been a particular torment to me. My heart will not permit me to be completely happy and the blues give me the blues. I want to escape every happy melody and run from the sad dirges of lost love. I have hung my harp on the willows and I never care to hear a tune; I have rarely picked up my harmonica to play since you died. There is much sorrow in song and all the laughter seems senseless to me; it is all painful noise to me now. I sit in the pew and I do not sing, I listen and I weep. I wonder if you sing to God, I wonder what you sing to God with that beautiful voice he blessed you with.

I walk with your mom on a fractured path. Nothing is the same and it can never be the same, it seems like a dream but this dream is now our life. All the family gladness has a tone of sadness of what was and can never be again. Family laughter is a faint and fading echo in our empty house. We are here, we are in your childhood home but there are no birthday celebrations, no dinner table talks, no Christmas morning family time no late night baseball games. There is silence and the silent house makes me sad. Yet there is a comfort here because this is where you lived, loved and left us behind.

What you wanted most for your sister has happened. She is married and she is truly happy and yet they are forever sad at the same time. I hear your brothers laugh and it make me happy, it does my heart good to hear it, yet it hurts because he no longer has a brother in his life. I have 3 brothers and now he is left alone; this saddens me too. You were always so proud of them both, you were a wonderful brother to them.

I hurt, I wish the pain away yet I know it’s here to stay. It builds and builds until a day like today when the tears flow and sadness finds its release. Grief is without containment, it finds a way of release whether in good or bad ways. I wish I could say that only good has come of it for myself, but to believe that would be to believe a lie. I am different, I am better and I am worse in so many ways. I pray to be shaped in a good way and that the work of God would not be resisted by me. Yet I am just a man, prone to failure and weak in my flesh. God help me.

Your mom; what can I say about your mom? Your mom has few words for her hurt, she is afraid to cry because the crying may never stop. Grandma came to see you six weeks after you left us. Life got twice as hard and she is carrying allot of sadness as well. She is strong and we are stronger together than when you left us. I see her words in her eyes, they tell me things that only I can understand. Her faith has given me strength and I thank God for giving me a wife that helps me in my many weaknesses.

Your remembered by us every day. I recently walked and thought of you on a stoney Alaskan beach and I cried with each step.DSCN1866 I saw beauty and desired that your eyes could have seen the things I saw, yet my eyes have yet to see the beauty that you now behold. I wanted to hear your voice, see that crooked smile and enjoy that gargled laugh of yours. I walked alone and I walked sad as I missed your presence on that far away beach, your in my heart every day. Your never forgotten, your life mattered to all you touched- you made an impact and people are different because of you. Your life has changed me for the good.DSCN1894

Some memorial tattoos have been inked on some special people. Shawn, YoYo, mom, Ed have all done something special to honor your life. Jared and I have ours coming; yeah Jake I want to get a tattoo. They do mean something, mine is on the front cover of my bible on a sticky note. Do you remember what you wrote? “Smile dad, your son loves you- Jake” I am smiling son, I’m just sad with a smile on my face.FullSizeRender-9

Wishing I could hold you…until then I will have smiles of sadness

I love you- dad

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Jacob Michael Fekete

Burn victims, maimed accident victims and people with severe birth defects or obvious physical abnormality cause me to behave oddly. I am compelled to look and yet when confronted by a returned glance I quickly turn away. I have pity for them but it is easier to turn my head and my feet in the opposite direction than to face what makes me uncomfortable and feeling a little awkward. Beneath the physical scars and handicaps of these individuals are all the unseen emotional wounds and scars that their lot in life has produced. Their physical scars and suffering run deep to the bone, to the very heart and soul of the individual. Like a leper who is banished to his leper colony he suffers alone most of the time. Only his leper friends truly know the depth of the lepers pain. Grief is much the same way.

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Stacey’s memorial tattoo with Jacob’s signature

The death of my son Jacob has scarred me for life. I and am a member of an elite club of a few people who paid the highest price to become a member. We are our own people who speak our own language which outsiders can never interpret or understand. We are every parents worst fear, they don’t want to become us and we don’t want them to know what we know. They possess compassion and pity, but lack empathy because only experience can truly bring empathy and understanding. People say, “I can’t even imagine how you feel.” and they are right. I never understood this unique kind of loneliness and pain with the deaths of other close loved ones. Losing a child puts us on an island with few citizens, but in the loneliness there are a few visitors who see past the pain, the scars the emotions and their own fears and minister to us in a special way.

Part of me died in the death of my son. I am different and I never expect to be the person I used to be. This is the new normal, and continuing grief is still shaping what this new normal looks like. I wrote all you have just read about 4 months ago and would like to add to it now. I am different but I have had friends recently say they have have seen glimpses of the old Mike from time to time. I am somewhat glad to to hear people say that but in all honesty I wouldn’t want to be the old Mike ever again.

Grief is chisel in the hand of God. He hammers on us to create whatever masterpiece the Lord has in mind. I am his workmanship. He is the potter and I am the clay. What God is creating is better than what I was before and his sculpting project isn’t complete yet.

It has been my experience  over the last year that I feel most comforted by people who make me feel normal in my new normal. They see my scars and my malady yet they don’t walk away. When they are with me I am comfortable to laugh again, and to cry at the drop of a hat. These dear people take our hand and walk us back on to the path of living. Simple things they do with us are restoring the path of life for us. They walk with us on our lonely island and we show them around; they are silent while we speak. They are not wordy people and yet they always have a few encouraging quips that help us to keep moving onward and upward.

Tonight as I opened this draft and read the 400 or so words that I managed to type out some months back. I started writing this just after the one year anniversary, I  had forgotten that I even started it but realized something great as I sat here. Four months later the wounds have healed a little more and the scars are taking more of their permanent shape. God has chipped away at the sharp edges in my life with his hammer and chisel. He sees clearly what I can only see in the dimness of the light. He’s still working on me

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

Living like a rock star

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Lake Michigan- Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore

I walked on a nearby beach for the first time recently. It is a beautiful place near our home that has been enjoyed by others for years but for us it was the very first time. We enjoyed every step along beautiful North Bar lake near Empire Michigan. Beach chairs in place we then took a stroll along Lake Michigan that runs parallel with North Bar. How often we take for granted the Great Lake in our back yard but not this day, we were taking it all in.

There are many lessons we can learn through God’s creation if we will only hear his voice in those contemplative classrooms. The following is what nature showed me as I considered my surroundings.

There is a wind cut sandy berm and the beach is littered with smooth stones perfect for skipping across the water. I picked up a few that caught my eye because of their color and beauty. Others I kept, tossing them across the waves that crashed at our feet. The variety of stones are endless, all had a different shape, a different color; many were dull and gray and really went quite unnoticed as we walked over top of them last Saturday. Others were full of color and sparkling quartz, one I picked up looked like a Leland blue stone but I decided it wasn’t and returned its sandy home.

Leland Blue

Leland Blue

Every stone had one thing in common on that beach. Each one was smoothed by the millennia of storms and waves that have crashed over them since God called them into existence. If they could speak what stories could they tell? Would we care to listen and would their journey matter to us at all?

I wondered, do we see people like we see the stones? All are very similar yet unique in themselves. Ordinary and gray, walked over, stepped on and unnoticed by the those who care to walk their way. The pretty ones get noticed and ugly ones get thrown aside and thrown into the sea of waves, forgotten by all and never to be considered again. I was struck by the thought considering all these stones that I am like them in many ways. The waves of trials in my life are shaping me, they crash on me and have been smoothing my edges over time. I noticed again that the water brings out the unseen beauty in the stones and they catch our attention. How I respond in trials is being watched, it can be ugly or it can be beautiful.

Trials shape our lives. I have reflected back on myself before the troubles came into my life and remember a hard stone of a man unshaped by any storms. I saw things in black and white, I was ridged with sharp edges but I guess there is always a hidden beauty in every stone that God has created. I am in God’s rock tumbler, I am in his polisher and the experience has been up and down and round and round. If I could go back to the old me that predates all the trouble I would decline the offer. Why? God has purpose for the pain and the polishing though difficult as it is brings out the hidden beauty in the stone. Not that there is anything beautiful in myself; it is Christ who alone who is beautiful. I’m rather ugly honestly but God recreates ugly stony hearts and reshapes them in his workshop of trials and through the renewing process of his word.

My New Testament given to me by my parents in 1996

My New Testament given to me by my parents in 1996

Trials in a life can embitter us, they can make us angry and resentful if we let our minds go to unhealthy places. But for the Christian we are to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4ESV) Trials have their place in bringing us to completeness but without the knowledge of God in the hardship we are left confused in our circumstances. To understand suffering we must understand God and how God uses it in our lives. This can only be discovered in the word of God to us. Jesus fully understands our pain, for he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

The attached photo is of my Bible, it is dated one day after Jacob died. There is a process in place, there is an end in view for me and for you as a Christian. My enemy is seeking to eat me up and spit me out, to sift me as wheat but like Peter we have something incredible taking place in all our temptations, trials and testing’s. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith not fail. And when you have returned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV) The shocking thing is that Jesus let satan go after him, but the prayer of Jesus for him and for us guards us from failing faith. Peter did return and he did strengthen his brothers after his testing’s.

Sunset on Lake Michigan near Empire

Sunset on Lake Michigan near Empire

Peter’s words are very helpful to me in this difficult stretch in my life. He tells me to be prayerful in my trials, clear-headed and alert, in humility resisting the devil. (James 4:6-8) Understanding that we are not alone in our troubles and that God’s grace is sufficient for every suffering saint. Christ himself stands with us in our purposeful suffering to “perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.” (1 Peter 5:10-11) “To him be the glory, and the dominion forever and ever. Amen”