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)

 

 

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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.

 

February 5th 1996 was life changing

We reminisced of our younger days with some dear friends the other day. She was 19 and I was 20, we got married and started a family just a few short months later. It was the fall of 1988. I was a boy, a selfish young man who knew nothing of life, of being a decent husband or good father. I was clueless to the needs of my new wife and God knows I didn’t have a way with kids. How I ended up being the loved janitor of an elementary school is beyond my understanding.

I wasn’t the ideal father when my kids were young. If you looked closely at my life you might think that I loved whitetail deer and salmon more that my own offspring. I was a self-absorbed functioning provider and my wife was a sportsmans widow. I missed out on a heck of a lot of things that I now would love to have back.

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20 year anniversary  in 2008

Speaking about, and later thinking on my life sobered me as I pondered it on a south Florida highway late Sunday afternoon. I opened a conversation with Stacey and said to her that I doubt I would have liked the young Mike Fekete if I had met myself today. She responded with some comforting words and reminded me that we can’t live life consumed with regret. We can only change today and hope to be better tomorrow.

We drove a little farther and I broke the silence again. I said, “Life sure would have been a whole lot different for us if God had not intervened with me.” Stacey agreed.

Late December 1995 I was told by Stacey that if it weren’t  for the kids and Christmas that she would send me packing. This was not an idle threat, I knew she meant what she said. Stacey never minces words and these words cut through my thick skull. God used her words to reflect on my life deeply and to consider Jesus once again whom I had closed out of my life. The weight of my sin and the heavy accountability I had before God for my wife and kids was crushing me in early 1996. I knew I was going to have to answer to him someday. Soon the dam would break and I would find the peace I needed.

We attended church one Sunday morning and the following scripture cut my soul like a hot knife through butter. The preacher read the words of Jesus in Matthew. “On that day many will say to me Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? And cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23)

I thought, if Jesus said this to the religious, what would he say to me who was irreligious? I knew the answer to that question and it caused me to turn to God for grace and mercy.

February 5th, 1996 I was working nights as a janitor at the local high school. The preachers words burned in my heart and I broke down before God in a classroom and  called my dad for advice. I told him my heart and all he said was, “Mike, you know what to do.” He was right and I hung up the phone. I called out to my heavenly Father, believed on his Son and he rescued me. I was saved and peace entered my soul for the first time.That day was the great turning point in my life.

This was not a decision to be morally better but a great awakening and spiritual rebirth. What Jesus said to religious Nicodemus he was saying to me, “You must be born again” to enter into the kingdom of God. I was 28 years old and I heard the voice of God calling into my soul and I responded in faith.

I’m not sure where I would be today if God had not reached down that cold February night. I told Stacey what happened  in the classroom and she responded by saying, “We will see.” She had every right to be skeptical. I had much to prove and restore.

God saved me, God saved my marriage and my family. I am not perfect, we are not perfect but the God who is still working in us certainly is. 22 years later God and time has changed so much for our good and his glory. We will celebrate 30 years of marriage this September and God willing I hope he grants us 30 more.

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As I think  of my old life I have many regrets but I have never regretted turning to Jesus. He changed everything in my life and by faith I am still being changed for the better day by day.

I am on the potter’s wheel and he continues to shape me into the image of his Son. Some of the molding has been very painful especially when we lost our Jacob. But I have found that in the worst of times that his grace has been sufficient. God has used even this to reveal himself to me and to shape me into the man I have become. There is still much more work for him to do. God never abandons any work be begins. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

To God be the glory, great things he has done!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; and behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ has reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

 

 

Getting caught in a grief bubble

Life is difficult. Doing life while grieving is extremely difficult. There are coping mechanisms that I have used consciously and unconsciously to deflect and protect myself from unwanted pain. Since our son Jacob died many times it has felt as though we have been at our emotional limits. There is a coping mechanism, a shield, or a force field per-se that guards us from feeling the pain of others. We see, we hear, and we know the sorrows of people but we often withdraw and put up our guard to avoid entering into their pain. We reside in a grief bubble with a thick wall. We can see out but nobody is allowed in. Sometimes we do this deliberately and other times it is a gross oversight.

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I unconsciously did this recently to some people I love very much. I should have known better but I neglected being there physically and emotionally for some dear friends who are going through some deep waters and grief. They were always there for me but I failed to be there for them. I was lovingly called out on my absenteeism and shown the ugly other side of the bubble I have placed around myself.

There is a point in time, I believe, that the shield must come down and the bubble must burst. I believe this because I am a Christian and Jesus himself reached out to others in his deepest pain and grief on the cross. He never withdrew from the needs of people even in his darkest hour. He had no bubble. He willingly ministered and offered grace to a criminal on the cross beside him. He provides comfort to his mother and John who wept below him at his pierced feet. He asked God to forgive his executioners while he himself suffered for their sin. He humbly ministered to the needs of those around the cross.

Seven hundred years before Calvary Isaiah wrote of what would take place on the cross. He said of him, “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:3-4. Jesus entered into our pain, our grief and our sorrow so that someday all tears might be wiped away.

In an infinitely lesser degree my suffering in this life is not pointless as a Christian, on the contrary it is quite purposeful. All comfort comes from God and the primary tool he uses to provide comfort to people is people. I hope I burst your bubble on that one because it’s true. The apostle Paul speaks to this issue to the Christians in Corinth.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Believers can never say that they can’t endure any more pain. That is just not true because God is the God of ALL grace and ALL comfort. His grace is sufficient for our every weakness and his comfort is boundless to heal the broken-hearted. Therefore, when we enter into the sufferings of others there is plenty of grace and comfort for all involved.

We will never be crushed if only we come to Jesus. He said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I have found that it is easy to rejoice with those who rejoice. What isn’t so easy is to weep with those who weep, but as a believer I am called to both. This week I was reminded that the comfort I received from God through my friends should have been returned to them, but it wasn’t, and for that I am ashamed. I asked for forgiveness and they graciously obliged and I learned a valuable lesson about grief once again. Comfort is not only to be received graciously but to be graciously dispensed.

In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul. Psalm 94:19

The monkey whisperer

I usually begin to write when grief teaches me something. When the keyboard is clicking grief has had something to say to me. The quiet time between blog posts is a measuring stick of progress I suppose. I am healing and the gaps seem to get wider between the times I feel compelled to write.

Grief has been not been silent however, she gets my attention every day but not in ways that are as abrupt, harsh and cruel as in times past.

It takes a long time to accept and adapt to life after the death of a child. Some people seemingly never adapt or recover I have observed, sadly, some are drowned and destroyed. My wife and I have found that adapting, moving, and getting on with life is a necessary and often painful part of the process. Getting stuck in grief is easy to do, it often feels like you are wading through chest deep muck in water filled waders. Yet we press on.

Grief has not been silent, she whispers daily to me. She teaches me new things and has shown me something recently that got the keyboard keys tapping again. I feel free. Not free from grief, but free of the heavy shoes that weigh me down and slow my healing. I am walking with it better now. Time does not heal this wound however, there is always a limp, a stone in my shoe per-se, and the need for a walking stick to catch me from falling. I no longer feel like there is a gorilla on my back, just a nagging monkey on my shoulder who pulls at my heart from time to time.

I walked the shores in Angoon Alaska 3 years ago with that gorilla on my back. This August I returned and walked those same shores and was free from that weight but not entirely. How I wish I could have walked this beach with my son the monkey whispered. My heart sank as my feet stuck in the tidal flat that morning. Soon I was free from the pain, removed the stone from my boot and was on my way once again. And so it goes for me. I am walking free but with a noticeable limp.

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I went to sit with Jacob the other day. I sat there and talked to him and talked with God on the small stone bench opposite of his headstone. I wet the ground again at the resting place of my son and mother-in-law and thought of the strange path my life has taken in the last three and a half years. So much has changed in my life, virtually nothing is the same. I said goodbye to my son and told him we are going to California for the winter. The monkey hopped on my shoulder as I walked away from the cemetery and whispered in my ear, “I am going with you.”

“Yes”, I whispered back, “And I will carry Jacob with me in my heart.”

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Purpose in the pain

The following is something I wrote a few short months after my son Jacob died. My hope is that it may help you better understand the purposes of God in the midst of pain.

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

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Last October Stacey and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by going to Mexico. Our time there was memorable and filled with exciting, new, and fun things to enjoy. Six months passed by and we found ourselves in a funeral home preparing to say goodbye to our beloved son Jacob. Which experience would you say is better? Here the preacher says something contrary to human understanding saying it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. Why? Because the character of God is learned many times through hardship and less frequently through times of laughter. Therefore the house of mourning is found to be better because it is there that we discover who our God is.

The Christian life is full of growing pangs that we would never have chosen for ourselves, but God is working in us to mature us though various trials he has chosen. We experience the fruit of joy which the Holy Spirit produces as we suffer in the many hardships we endure. This joy is obviously not based in our circumstances but in the comforting fact that God is at work in our lives to sculpt his masterpiece. “My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

A test may be grieving you, the circumstances may be grim but our steadfast endurance in the pain produces the fruit that God desires in us. The desired goal of God is that we be perfectly matured and fully equipped for Christian living through the trial. Did you notice James says we need to let patience do the work which God desires to accomplish?Does this mean we can resist the work of God and stunt our spiritual growth? I believe it does. God wants us to stop being children (1 Peter 2:2) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

There are three levels of Christian maturity. Children understand the basic truth that they have been forgiven. Children develop into strong young men by having the word of God dwelling in them and overcoming the wicked one. Young men grow into fathers by life experiences that reveal the character of God described on the pages of scripture. In all this maturing God uses trials along the way so in the end we can say with John, “I write unto you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” (1 John 2:12-14) We move from reading the book about God to knowing the God of the book though our pilgrimage of pain.

I can honestly say that there was very little I learned about God when I went to Mexico. I resided in the house of laughter and my spiritual growth was at best was in neutral. We came home to that long hard winter which ended in the worst day of our lives on March 26th; we entered into the better place of sorrow. How is it better? In all the sorrow, pain and grief we find God, he is the brightest in the darkest of times. He reveals himself in ways that the happy times could never have taught us.

What was the first lesson I learned in the house of mourning? What was the first lesson in the classroom of spiritual maturity for me? Lesson number one for me was a lesson on grace. Being in a helpless and seemingly hopeless place I learned though suffering that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) In the weakest moment of my life Christ poured out his grace and showed himself strong. He is the God of all grace and he has plenty to in reserve for your many afflictions in life too. Allow God to refine you in your house of mourning, there is grace for you in your time of great need. (Heb. 4:16)

As sorrowful; yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10)

God bless, Mike.

Embracing change

Change. If there is anything consistent and constant in life it is that life is full of change.   I have noticed that many people have difficulty with changes in life. Drastic changes cause the status quo crowd to become unraveled just a bit.

Change. I guess if there is any advice I can give to parents who have lost kids it would be to  brace yourself for huge life changes. Death changes everything, nothing remains the same after a child dies. I have learned by experience to embrace the changes because resisting them tend to be futile and unproductive.

Change. So much has changed for my wife and I since our son Jacob died a little more than 3 years ago. Changes we never would have chosen except that we felt compelled to move forward in life and embrace them. Yes, that meant we embraced pain by choice many times to get to the next place in life. Some changes we chose but many were chosen for us without our approval, either way we changed as the changes presented themselves. Changes were a healing balm for us. Much like painful physical therapy heals your body, painful changes have helped heal our souls.

Change. We sold our house, our two kids got married, I am retiring at 49, we bought a house, Stacey is quitting her job at the hospital and we are going to travel nurse for the next few years in sunny southern states.

Envy. People keep saying to me that they envy what we are doing, where we are going, and living a life that is somewhat footloose and fancy free. I have to admit it kind of bugs me when they say they envy us. I realize that they only see the positive changes but fail to remember the difficult changes that led to this lifestyle. If our loved ones had not died we would not be in the place we find ourselves. Much grief, much pain, and many difficult changes brought us to this place. Do not misunderstand me, I feel blessed to be in this place but how we got here was not fun at all.

Change. We did not want to change our life but death forced changes to be made. For those who casually say they envy the path we are currently on I think to myself, “You wouldn’t want to walk path that led to these changes.” Yet here we are and here we go into our ever-changing future.

Change. I have learned to change and adapt to what life brings my way. Losing a child changed everything in our life, nothing is the same as it was just 3 short years ago. Nor can it ever be again, so we embrace the change, adapt to the new life and move forward into the uncertain future of changes to come whether good or bad.

I guess what we have discovered is that unwanted life changes are inevitable. How we respond to the changes, and the personal changes we choose to make, make all the difference in how we heal on our journey with grief. Sometimes “going with it” is difficult but I have found that changes pay higher dividends than I ever expected.