Anymore till evermore

I don’t hurt the same way at Christmas anymore.

I don’t dread the holiday season anymore.

I don’t desire to isolate myself at this time of year anymore.

This is Christmas number five since my son left this life. There was a time when I felt the heaviness would always return at this time of year. It doesn’t anymore. Grief continues but it has changed very much over time. Time is a friendly healing balm that the bereaved use daily to close the wounds and soften the scars.

We don’t leave the Christmas decorations in storage anymore. We do not choose to work on the holidays anymore. The spirit of the season has been given new life to us with the birth of our first grandchild.

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Holiday seasons changed suddenly to heartache five years ago and each passing year it morphs again. I am not in constant pain at this time of year anymore. The dull ache continues but the stabbing pains have become infrequent and short-lived when they visit my soul. Pain doesn’t dominate my life this time of year anymore.

This Christmas season I have embraced with open arms. It was once intolerable, it became tolerated but now has new welcomed traditions.

I empathize with the bereaved especially at this time of year. It’s so hard to endure. I thought the day would never come where “anymore” would be in my vocabulary. But it is and I am very pleased to use it.

Anymore has become one of the greatest gifts of the Christmas season. But there is something eternally better on the horizon. Anymore will become evermore.

Assured eternal hope is better than the temporary comforts of all my “anymores.” Hope changes everything because someday the journey will be complete, the pain will cease and there will be no more tears. Anymore!

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Live in evermore hope my friends and enjoy the anymore steps in your journey with grief. Grace and peace to you all this holiday season.

 

 

 

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The best Mother’s Day ever

Life for us got derailed a little more than four years ago. The wreckage was overwhelming and seemed as though repairing life and getting back on track could never happen. Thankfully it does. Lately I feel like I have finally come to accept life without Jake.

I spoke with a 30 year  club member the other day. The lady lost a daughter to a drunk driver in 1988. We shared our stories with tears and she said something unexpected to me. “Boy” she paused, “Your on the fast tract. It took me a lot longer to get where you are in the healing process.”

Actually, I have felt that way sometimes and other times I felt like I was wearing lead boots in quicksand. We are moving forward. Time is our friendly escort away from the wreckage and I rarely stop and take a look back at it. I never wanted to stop healing and get stuck in grief and it saddens me to watch those who aren’t moving forward.

Grief is a terrible place to stay. I decided long ago I would rather hurt moving forward than hurt standing still. There’s no schedule in grief but there are many exits and layovers on the journey. I expect delays but I never stop for very long. The final destination is heaven but as the country song says, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to go now.” I can relate to that.

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Life took a cozy and scenic turn two Sundays ago. Our oldest revealed to us that they are having a baby and we finally get to be grandparents. It was the best Mothers Day ever!

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I remember in the early days of our pain saying to my wife that I didn’t want grandchildren. I did not want to love with the possibility of losing again. What Stacey responded with has stuck with me through these difficult four years. “Mike,” she said, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all.” She’s right.

We are greatly blessed by God who gives and takes away. Jake was taken away from us but the One who gives us life and breath is forming a new life in my sweet baby girl.

Nothing could ever replace Jacob, but God has chosen to change our season of grief into a season of joy with a new life. For this I give him thanks.

There have been many twist and turns on our grief journey. I feel like we have hit a straight away but not so naive to think that there will not be more bumps along the way.

I am enjoying life. I am excited about our future and our first grandchild coming into our family. Life is good. God is good.

13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)

 

 

Seasons of silence

My wife had her heart set on a pretty dress she found last Friday but didn’t buy it. She mentioned it to me and I thought it would make her a great early birthday gift. We decided to go the next morning and left for the local Saint Patrick’s day activities.

Saturday morning we walked out of the condo into the salty south Florida air to get Stacey’s dress. Three blocks into our walk a twenty something young man was slumped over himself on a city bench. My wife and I walked by, she looked away and I looked on as the two officers attempted to wake him and feel for a pulse. It was an apparent overdose.

We walked on and didn’t speak about what we had just seen. The boutique door was open and I purchased for my wife the cute black dress for her to wear to the Kenny Chesney concert. The silence continued as we took a different route home. Nothing was said, nothing needed to be said, what is unsaid is always understood between us.

I am not sure if he became a Palm Beach county overdose death statistic or not. On average 600 people die in this beautiful place each year. A cold dark reality in such a warm and sunny paradise. Seeing this triggered some horrible memories which were immediately discarded to avoid unnecessary pain.

I guess it’s time to write again. It has been 61 days since my last post, and that is a good thing. When I am not writing it’s a safe bet that I am doing OK in my journey with grief.

I have never wanted to write about grief just to write about grief. In this blog I have endeavored to express my faith and my struggle with grief in a real and practical way. These 100 or so posts have been closely connected to my day-to-day experiences. My experience with grief in the last two months has been, well, uneventful and nothing to write home about.

Thinking about this, and having nothing to say, nor anything to write, it dawned on me that I should explain to my readers why I get silent.

In the early days of the blog when grief was so intense it was easy to communicate what was happening because it was all fresh and new. But now, living life without Jake feels normal and I have accepted this reality now. It’s not without pain and discomfort but the shock is gone and this no longer feels like a bad dream.

Jake left us 4 years ago on the 26th of this month. Early in my journey I remember having a conversation with parents who were 5 years into their journey. I recall them describing their healing and wished I could fast forward to the place they were. Now that I have arrived to that place I have less to write about because grief is no longer the dominant thing in my life.

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There was a time it felt as though the pain would never subside. But it does, the seasons change and life goes on without the one I love. You take a walk, you remember, you buy a pretty black dress, you celebrate a birthday, you go to a concert and a Saint Patrick’s day parade. You move on and you live life.

Obviously I have my difficult moments and days but the healing has given me less to write about. I have considered ending this blog on a few occasions but realized there will always be something to write about in my grief journey. Grief doesn’t end for me until my life ends, but I have a hunch there will be less and less to write about as time goes by.

Enjoying my season of silence in sunny south Florida.

 

Learning contentment during the holiday season

Stacey and I sat on our deck in late August of 2015 eating dinner. I pushed my food around the plate looking for the words to say that had been on my heart. I sipped on my iced tea and said, “I have been thinking it might be time to sell the house.” She replied, “Funny, I have been thinking the same thing.”IMG_1164

The death of our son Jacob on March 26th 2014 set us on a course in life that we likely would never had chosen otherwise. We sold, I retired at 49 with 30 years of public school employment. Our nest emptied, the kids got married and we currently have no grandchildren. Stacey quit her job and signed on to become a travel nurse. We left Michigan for southern California on September 18th to work for the winter.

We left our friends, our family, our jobs and all that was normal in our lives. Life has taken such a dramatic turn for us since the four deaths in our family. Stacey’s mother died suddenly 7 weeks after Jacob, her death forever changed the dynamic of the holiday season for us.

It is this time of year that our life changes become most glaring and difficult. It is hard to watch families during the holidays because those times have been taken from us. Traditions ended abruptly in 2014 and there haven’t been any new and lasting traditions established since then.

We have no Thanksgiving plans, no plans for Christmas and no plans for New Year Eve. Please, I am not looking for pity but painting a picture of the reality of life during the holidays for many people. It is easy to become depressed and discontent at this time of year.

Thankfully, we have our kids coming to be with us for a week in early December. So stoked about that!

We are doing well. God is gracious. We lack nothing and yet we are having to learn how to be content with the things we no longer have. Things that are forever lost in time and will never be restored. Thanksgiving Day football, deer hunting, food and card playing till midnight. Christmas Eve at grandmas for dinner and opening of gifts. Sharing in a large family circle giving thanks to God. Christmas morning with the kids and Stacey’s annual breakfast with my in-laws. Bowl games, cards games and good times on New Years Eve. All these frozen images in time, they are gone, and we must now learn contentment with the way things are.

Yes, it is difficult to watch families enjoy what has been taken from us at least for the moment. We are not jealous nor envious of others but it hurts to watch just the same. We are content with the things we have and are learning to be content with the things that have been taken away.

In all of this I have found strength and encouragement for coming holidays in the words of scripture. The incarnate One is with me and I am content with him and his promises.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better not bitter

I met a man who is a member of “the club” on a Monday not long ago. His name is Leroy and his membership began the day before his son turned 21. Leroy’s son John was murdered in 1995. We shared our stories without shame of tears in an empty laundry room for about thirty minutes. There was an immediate bond between us, an understanding that only a father or mother in the club can know.

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The lives of all parents that have lost children are segmented into life before and after death. And so our stories went in the conversation. I loaded the washer and listened to my new friend describe his pain, his anger, desperation and the hopelessness he wrestled with after his son died. He then shared how all that changed through his faith and love for God.

Our stories are very different but very similar at the same time. Like a two-track through a dark woods our paths run side by side headed in the same direction. We spoke of our paths of hope and how terrible pain pressed us both into a deeper faith in God. Of course, this isn’t always the case with bereaved people, it can go quite the opposite way in fact. I agreed and mentioned to him what the preacher said in his sermon the day before.

“Everyone will suffer in this life” the preacher said, “and how we respond to it will either makes us bitter or better.” He went on to say that the difference between the words better and bitter is simply the letter I in the middle. When suffering becomes I centered bitterness can overtake us.

Leroy described in detail his bitter anger and hopelessness in the early days of his grief. But all that changed for him in time. He went on and spoke of how God has used the death to shape him into someone much different and better than before. I can relate, and so can everybody else who loves God in the midst of suffering.

All things, good and bad, have a definite, useful, and good purpose in the life of a Christian. Who is a Christian? We are those who love God and love his Son Jesus Christ. The believer understands that suffering is used to shape us into something good. Someone better. Someone beautiful.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

All things really do happen for a reason but this promise is only for a believer. The good purpose of God is to use everything in shaping those who love him into looking like his Son. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 

I suppose suffering can push those who hate God to confusion, despair and hopelessness. But for Leroy and I we spoke of our love for God and his love towards us. Without a doubt the murder of John and the overdose of Jacob were the most terrible events in our lives. Have those events made us bitter or better? We only spoke of the good intentions of a loving God in our shared stories. There are only happily ever afters for those who love God. God is making us better.

The purposeful good end of all things for those who love God is that he shapes us into the image of Jesus on his potter’s wheel. Someday the shaping will be complete and I will in my flesh behold the face of God. 

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2

What a beautiful and meaningful ending to our journeys with suffering and pain.

I am better not bitter.

 

A parental view on pain management

My son Jacob Michael Fekete died of an opiate prescription drug overdose on March 26th, 2014. He was 22. The epidemic is a topic I have not written on or discussed very often. But today is different, I feel compelled given President Trump’s declaration about the national heath emergency on opiate addiction.

Unbeknownst to my wife and I Jacob’s addiction began at 16 after having 2 medical procedures. The roots of addiction grew from there on this naive small town parent. By the time he had finished his second year in college Jacob got clean on his own. We learned of the depth of his problem after he came home for the summer between his sophomore and junior year. He opened up to us, confessed his addiction and made peace with his conscience. We were there to lovingly guide him through the summer and beyond but we were always concerned about a relapse.

Jacob chose not to return to Grand Valley State University that fall and opted to enroll in the Maritime Academy in Traverse City Michigan. IMG_0653Things were going well for him there and he was about a year away from completing the program. He lived with us at home and the signs of drug use were not evident, at least not to my wife and I. We were taken off guard, shocked beyond measure because we didn’t see the signs that accompany drug use.

Jacob relapsed during a particularly stressful time in his life. I said good night to him on the 25th of March and Stacey would discover him on the basement floor the following morning. All this only ten months after Jacob’s first cousin Justin Smith died of a heroin overdose. Justins drug dealer now sits in prison.

I don’t know where Jake got the drugs. His death was big news in our small community (as was Justins) and I am sure the dealer knows of his demise. A prisoner of his tormented conscience I have often hoped. I feel no anger towards whomever gave him the drugs that would take his life. Jake did something stupid, it was his choice. We live with those choices but I know he never would wish on us any of the pain we have endured. He loved us.

When I think of drug dealers I rarely envision a thug. I see a professional in a white overcoat with a dignified MD after his name. I recall people speaking the name of a local physician as a pill pusher and snicker about it. It was common knowledge in my community whom to visit if you wanted opiates for pain management. These are the dignified dealers who should be prosecuted in my view. Medical doctors who have betrayed their oaths and hurt their patients and communities, all behind a professional veil.

I guess if I could give advice to parents it would be the following. If your kid has real need of pain control you need to take control of their pain management. Life is full of pain, surgery recovery hurts. Let them feel some pain, use the Tylenol, be careful with the opiates. Keep track of what is used, keep it in a secure location and discard of all unused scripts as directed. It might just save you and your kid a whole lot of deeper pain in the future.

There is no deeper pain than losing a child and there is no pain reliever for those who have suffered the loss. Only time can dull the sharp edge of grief but the ache never goes away. I live with pain and manage it the best I can. One day at a time and presciption free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Jake

Jacob was born March 3rd 1992. A chubby and content newborn, nearly ten pounds who could have won a cute baby contest. Soon he was sitting up, soon he was walking, soon he was dressed for his first day of kindergarten. Not long after we were attending football games, wrestling matches, choir concerts and high school graduation.

Birthdays, Christmas, vacations, and Sunday afternoon dinners with the entire family have vanished. All that remains are these snapshots of his life. Just frozen images of places, times, and events but not much more. His life doesn’t run like a movie in my mind. There are only clips and screenshots, bits and pieces that flash in my memory.

Sometimes Facebook jars my memory and I recover a forgotten snapshot in time.

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I can’t remember. I want to remember but it seems most of the files have been deleted. They are scattered, unrecoverable and taken away like leaves with the cool winds of fall. There are a few leaves left behind that the late October wind left behind. I hear his voice and the garbled laugh of his great-grandmother. I see his thin-lipped crooked smile and clips of his maturing face as he grew from a boy into a man.

There are other memories that exist in a firesafe box in the basement. They are digital memories on discs and VHS tapes. The box has not been opened. The digital images remain in darkness, unseen but available. I have not come to the place where I can open the box, the very thought still causes me to shutter. Pandora’s box? Perhaps. I guard myself from places that complicate my grief. I’m not ready and I am not sure I will ever be ready. Maybe his brother and sister will discover it years from now and open the treasure chest of their brother’s life. I hope it makes them smile. I hope it warms their hearts. Near the firesafe box is a cedar chest. Someday they will also open the hope chest  and in it they will discover all the cherished family leaves gathered in one place. Full of color, full of beauty, full of memories and full of love.

I long to hear his voice, but not in this way. I desire to see him but not on a 60 inch flat screen. Not now, not yet, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps never.

Life begins and life gets lost in forgotten moments that have passed me by. How I wish to gather the leaves into a pile and admire the beauty of each colorful fallen leaf. Scattered memories are all that remain and every so often I pick up fallen leaf in time and recall a sweet moment. Once insignificant moments in time that have become beautiful and cherished snapshots for me to enjoy today.

Someday hope will end and I will realize my hope when we meet again face to face.

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)