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.

 

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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

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.

 

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)

 

 

 

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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