Change: Diminishing grief the hard way

Change. Life is always changing, so much has changed for us that sometimes I can’t believe this is now our life. Three years ago I was on cruise control on life’s highway without a care in the world. The top was down, the sun was shining, the road was smooth with no twists, no turns, no exits and rarely a lane change.

We didn’t see the detour sign and didn’t know that the bridge was out. We drove right off the mighty Mackinac bridge feeling the sudden impact, the continual cold waves, and the shock of all that happened to our family in such a short amount of time. Change. Death changed everything in life. Our life has changed so much in the last three years that Stacey and I have often found ourselves saying to each other, “I can’t believe that this is our life!” It was very surreal at first but reality has now set in and we have evolved and changed with all the changes death brought to us.

Change. Losing a child changes everything in life and I have found that the only handbook on how to navigate the new world we have entered into is the bible. When I say that death changes everything that is exactly what I mean; nothing is the same nor will it ever be the same. It changed my perspective on the world, I don’t think like I used to nor do I respond to life like I used to. Death changed my faith, my marriage, my family, my plans in life, it has altered every aspect of living.

I guess if there is any counsel I could give to a parent who has just lost a child it would be to buckle up and brace yourself for change. I would also encourage them to not be afraid of making choices for change that will help with the grieving process. I have discovered by experience that grief can be diminished by doing the difficult things.

Change. We can only play the cards we are dealt and I will confess there are times I have wanted to fold and quit the game. In the beginning of the game it felt like I would never get a good hand dealt to me but cards always change and good fortune did come.

Though death did change everything without our consent there are choices for changes we have made to make our journey somewhat smoother again. They haven’t always been easy choices  but I have found healing in the difficult decisions. Death changed everything but we made difficult choices to change and adjust our lives to our new paradigm.

Grief can bring you to a standstill in life. Change has come and we have found that we must change to avoid getting stuck in our grief. The difficult thing with change and moving forward is that it hurts most of the time. Grief therapy and physical therapy are somewhat similar. We must make the choice to go to our appointments, make a choice to do the tough stuff and expect that after the uncomfortable pain has passed there will be healing in the end.

Change. We didn’t choose this pathway but we can choose the path to better places. I have learned that making changes are difficult and downright painful at times but the benefits are worth it. Somebody once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I have chosen to change with all the changes that have come my way and expect a different outcome. It hasn’t always been easy, it hasn’t been always comfortable. I have learned that changes hurt sometimes, (heck, most of the time) but found that in grief the old wrestling adage applies very well. “No pain, no gain!”

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During my years of wrestling with Jacob I have been confronted by huge life changes that I didn’t sign up for. In that time I have made small and large changes to move forward in the healing process. Life is always in flux but for me there is a great comfort that I hold to that never changes. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) With all the changes in life he is the rock I stand on that never moves and in that I take great comfort.

Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion. According to the multitude of His mercies. (Lamentations 3:32) 

 

 

Troubling Triggers

Without question my grief trigger over the last three years has been music. From day one music has triggered for me sadness and pain. I can honestly say that I hated music, I hated everything about it and I found it nearly inescapable no matter how fast I tried to run from it. The sound of music is everywhere and it pierced my soul with pains so that even background music in a TV commercial would cause me to cry. I made every effort to shut music out of my life to reduce the triggers of grief it caused.

The following video is one of Jacob performing a song he wrote only 4 months before he died.

 

The music trigger for me was set off every Sunday that I sat in church. I found myself in the deepest pain when the people sang. I do not sing, nor do I yet feel compelled to sing in church. I listen to the voices, I pray and I try to focus on worship while greatly anticipating the music ending and the sermon beginning.

I have been able to measure my healing by my ability to listen to music. I have moved from hatred of music, to tolerating it, to now being able to tune it in with only minimal grief. It has been uncanny how each anniversary of Jacob’s death marks a recognisable step in the healing process for me. I have noticed that the trigger of music is not what it once was at this three-year anniversary mark.

My heart is healing and not so heavy, music doesn’t make me shudder in pain like it once did. King Solomon wrote a proverb that perfect describes how I have reacted to the troubling trigger of music. “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25:20)

Grief Changes and triggers lighten

My wife Stacey has discovered Kenny Chesney’s satellite station called No Shoes Radio. Silence is usually what I am tuned into when we drive together but lately on the road I have tuned into her favorite station. I have been able to listen, but not without an occasional pull at my heart which I try to endure that the healing may continue in my soul.

Coming home from Chicago a couple weeks ago I heard a song by Kenny for the very first time. As soon as the song began Stacey turned and said to me, “You can turn it off.” I responded by saying “No, it will help me heal.” The song is called Who You’d Be Today.  It was hard to listen to and made for difficult driving as I pondered his words.

Time does not heal all wounds but I am discovering that time does change the troubling triggers of grief. With time grief becomes manageable and the triggers come less often. Who knows, maybe next year I will be able to sing in church once again, or maybe I will play my harmonica again. Time will tell because time changes everything.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4

Grace in the dark place

Jacob Michael Fekete would have been 25 on March 3rd but instead he is forever 22. On March 26th we will have completed our third cycle around the sun without our son.image

This path is not one that any parent would choose to walk. Yet in this journey there is wisdom that I have gleaned that could have only been acquired by walking it.

I have learned more about God and about myself in the last three years than I had in the previous 45. There are innumerable topics I could write about but today I will lightly touch on just one. Grace in the dark place.

Grace

I have a deeper knowledge and experience of the grace of God in my life because of my son’s death. However, I sometimes wish I were still ignorant of the depth of this grace because it took me places I never wanted to go. But when plunged into the depth of sorrow I have found a surplus of grace in the sometimes overwhelming pain of grief. This all-sufficient grace is only experienced in the deep and dark places of life. Grace is precious and it is needed to persevere through the pain.

Most of the weakest moments of my life have been in the last three years. I can say that in those moments of despair, and having nowhere to look but up, that grace has sustained and strengthened me. Jesus said to Paul and also has assured me of the abundant supply of this all sufficient grace. “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

 I have discovered the hidden treasure of his grace in the deepest darkest places of my life. Jesus is the treasure, He is the diamond discovered in a mineshaft without light. No treasure is ever discovered unless one descends into the mine. I didn’t want to go but God sent me anyway and I would not trade the treasure I have discovered in the shaft. I discovered Jesus in the mine and we became much better acquainted. It was there that he uncovered for me the precious abundant treasures of his grace. It was there also that he showed me the immense value of faith in him. He has disclosed for me the jewel of his hope diamond and the endless golden vein of his love found only in darkest places I never wanted to go.

I can say that the pain is worth enduring because the payout is priceless. I lost intimacy with my son but I gained intimacy with Jesus in the experience. Jesus is the treasure.

 There is pain involved in growing in the grace and knowledge of God. The maturing process cuts to the bone but I have clung to the following verse through it all-knowing its purposeful end. Peter said, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) Jesus never hid himself to me in the darkness. No, rather he revealed himself to me. He himself is restoring my life, he himself is confirming me till the end, he himself is giving me strength in my weakness and he himself is establishing me for every good word and work.

The darkness of the mineshaft is discomforting but there is grace and treasure to be discovered in the deep pit. Jesus is there, yes, I would even say that Jesus is more easily found in the darkness rather than in the light. His value is discovered in dark places and I would not exchange this intimacy for the world. No, I would not exchange this even for my beloved Jacob. Why? Because apart from Jesus I would never had my son nor would I ever get to be in his presence again. I will see my son again but that was only made possible by the immeasurable grace of God found in his only Son.

When the mountain is on top of me and the weight of the world is on my shoulders my burden is made light because of Jesus. I cannot carry this burden and am thankful that I can cast my cares on him because he cares for me. What a marvelous Savior. What amazing grace. What a priceless treasure he is.

 

 

 

 

 

When hope is lost

Life is difficult. Pain is real. Grief, sorrow and trials are experienced by all in this world. We live by the golden rule, we walk by faith…or so we say, or so I have said. Yet lately, for longer than I want to admit to myself I have lost my hope. Oh, I say that I hope in God but that hope is mingled with a hope for better things in this life. I had dreams, but they died. I had desires for good things but they were cast down. I suffer pain, grief, sorrow and loss and I feel disheartened and crushed. I must admit that the death of my son Jacob has crushed my spirit to hope for better things.
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Therein lies my problem. I have fallen into the trap of placing hope in this temporal life, for passing earthly hopes that disappear as quickly as they appear. Oh, I would say that I was also looking to heaven for my eternal hope, but when my eyes fell again on the horizontal plane towards my hopes in this life I have been repeatedly disappointed. In these past three years I have guarded myself from hoping for better things in my life. However, when I let my guard down many times I was crushed again by another disappointing and difficult life event. I had forgotten and lost my sight of the promises in the valley of the shadow of death. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
We have faith in God, we have love for God and we have good hope in God. Faith can be turned to fear, love can grow cold, and hope will be shaken when the eyes of our soul turn away from Jesus to the things of this life. God has corrected my eyesight in the last couple of days with the help of some of his servants. I had lowered my spiritual eyes and turned away from the only eternal and unwavering hope. I still desire, expect and hope for good things from my gracious and merciful savior in this life. I will hope and wait for his goodness but whether in the pain or in the pleasure my hope is assured by an anchor in heaven. When hope in this life is robbed by trials I have learned, and have been recently been painfully reminded again that earthly hope is a mirage and a dissipating vapor.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18 ESV) There have been times I have wanted to put a choke hold on people who quickly respond to trials by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” While this is true it is of no comfort to the sorrowful, in fact it can be maddening. I have been in the fire, I am in the fire and I expect be in the fire again. This verse assures me that the my afflictions are temporal and no matter how bad life gets they are considered light and purposeful. I can rejoice in hope in the fire that prepares me for my future glorious inheritance in heaven. This is assured and this is our unchangeable and eternal hope.
I have been comforted by God and my hope has been restored because my eyes have turned heavenward where Christ my hope is seated at the right hand of God. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thess2:15-17) Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
 

The life and death of passion

Four family deaths and the burial of three loved ones on the same day did something to me that only those closest to me have witnessed. Today I want to reveal it to everybody. The death of Jacob has doused many passions I once enjoyed and involved myself in life. Like a bucket of water thrown on a campfire all that is left of the once hot fire are charred coals, some rising steam, and the sound of hissing.

I want to write about the death of passion for those who are on the outside of grief and know nothing about losing a child. I desire to write this not to be critical or cynical of your passions so I preface my writing so you don’t misunderstand my heart. My hope is that perhaps I can help somebody who is confused as to what changed in their friend who once shared similar passions with them. Maybe your golfing partner no longer plays anymore, perhaps your buddy doesn’t want to come over and watch the big games like he used to. What happened? I think I can explain it out of my own personal experience.

I used to be obsessed with outdoor activities. I couldn’t get enough of hunting and fishing. I once was deeply involved and passionate about the sport of wrestling. There was a time when American politics were of great interest to me and I involved myself in the dialogues and used to be a dutiful voter. I also was once a fanatically obsessed fan of Michigan sports teams. It was easy for me to enter into activities and conversations that involved my passions at one time, but not anymore. On March 26th & May 15th 2014 these fires were quenched by a bucket of grief. Oh, there are the remnants of the fire there in my life but none of my former passions mean a hill of beans to me anymore.

The death of certain passions have caused me to pull away from the conversations and activities that I was once obsessed over. Much of it is like eating a cracker with cotton mouth and nothing to wash it down with.

My former passions have all but become inane nonsense to me. I hate the political noise, I can’t change the world with my one vote so I have chosen to walk away from a former passion that is of no personal help to me. I no longer allow my thoughts and desires to be hijacked by my sports teams, or guns, politics or outdoor activities. No, grief has all but struck the last and fatal blow to those former passions. Even entering into the conversations of these things has become difficult for me to endure. Why is this? Have all my passions died?

In my experience with grief I have learned to chuck all the noise and nonsense that only adds to the chaos and robs me of peace. Most of the passions I once had  have all but died in my grief and I am not sure they will ever be resurrected again. I suppose only time will tell me that, I am not without passion however. Life’s passions for me got extremely pared down because death always magnifies what is truly important and eliminates what is not. Deer hunting, a stinky fish, political views, a football game are of little or no value to me anymore. Though I still lightly involve myself in these occasional enjoyable activities they don’t consume me.

Bring up politics, hunting, fishing and sports and I may be lightly engaging but quickly bored. And if I were to bring up my passions you might be lightly engaging and terribly bored as well. What have my passions and interests boiled down to you might ask. Read my blog posts and you will discover that I am passionate about the truth. Jesus said, “I am truth” and he also stated that “the word of God is truth.” Jesus is God in flesh, and he as the God-man beat death, was raised, ascended through the heavens, and is now seated at the right hand of God. The scriptures foretold it, it happened, and he is returning to judge the earth. I am passionate about this hope in him.

I have discovered that people have many passions but I find few people (especially men) who are passionate about Jesus and the truth.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Oh and by the way, I do have one other passion I will mention. Her name is Stacey and we have three beautiful kids (one in heaven) who we are passionate about. They have life partners now and God willing I expect my family to grow. Somehow I think that grand babies will be our next passion in life.fam

Jesus said that our mouths reveal the passions of our hearts. What we talk most reveals our true passions, so we do well in listening to the stuff that our tongues are wagging about. Many of the passions that once dominated my time, my thinking and speaking died with my son. My passions are for Jesus, the truth, and my family, almost everything else to me has become superfluous.

Maybe I am an anomaly or maybe I am not, but this is for certain. Grief pares down our passions to the most important things in life. Sorry if I don’t appear to care about my former passions anymore, the fire was doused by 4 funerals. I am pretty sure other grieving people are feeling similar things. So cut some slack to your friends and family who have silenced the noise and focused on the things that matter most to them. Death kills many passions but also gives life to the passions that matter most; don’t try to understand this, just please take note and accept it for what it is.

 

 

Grief withdrawals

It is 3:45 AM and I can’t sleep again. At least this time I wasn’t awakened by night terrors. Stress seems to trigger certain things in grief like restlessness and nightmares. There is a veiled part of grief that I carry that most do not see or recognize. I am struggling with it greatly at the moment, it is something I hate and have dealt with before and assume I will deal with in the future.

I call it the withdrawals of grief. Irritability to commotion and disdain for group gatherings  heightens, stress seems to be the trigger and grief tends to be magnified with the stress. I want to pull away, I need to escape the chaos so I begin to withdraw myself from group gatherings.

I find it hard to be around happy people during these times. It is difficult to laugh and I find it hard to smile. Life takes on a more serious tone and silliness is annoying to me. I feel like oil and water in large groups and I just can’t blend in naturally. Irritability greatly heightens and it is just better for everybody if I pull away and disappear for a while.

This desire to withdraw creates an unnatural dilemma in my life. There is a large group of people I love greatly who have been an anchor for me in troubled times and in good times. They are my church family of whom I find myself pulling away from at the moment. It is unnatural because the church is the place where Christians go for fellowship, to be built up, strengthened and encouraged. The building itself is troubling to me at times as well. My kids grew up there and four of my family members including my son laid in caskets in the very place I teach from every Sunday. Bitter sweet memories grab me every Sunday as I enter this place. I want to run, I want to fly away, I want to withdrawal.

My heart is severely pained within me,
And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me,
And horror has overwhelmed me. So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off,
And remain in the wilderness. Selah

I would hasten my escape
From the windy storm and tempest.”

Psalm 55:4-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

How insignificant things become meaningful

Selling a house is an emotional experience. A house becomes home because of family and years of created memories within its walls. We are getting ready to sell, we want to downsize and prepare for our future retirement. The emotions are greatly increasing for us and are much more intense than most sellers because of Jacob’s death.

It has been 2 years and 2 months since we said goodbye to Jacob. His bedroom door is closed and we have yet to go through his things. Soon we will be forced into tasks we have put off till the right time. I can’t say that the right time is here but the unavoidable day of packing, pitching and painting is coming fast. It’s still our call as to when, but one thing is for sure, we can no longer keep putting it off.

I got a taste of the pain last weekend while repainting his brothers room. Tokens of Jake’s life and the love these brothers have for each other was everywhere. It made me cry. These were the first tears I shed in connection to our decision to sell our home. I expect more, I expect harder days and am preparing myself as best I can for the hardest day to come; the day we open Jakes bedroom door. The day the door swings open our hearts will be opened as well, opened to love, opened to memories, opened to grief and opened to the pain.

There are many insignificant things in life that suddenly turn incredibly important upon death. Once meaningless items now speak a story and evoke thoughts and emotions. This really made me consider the meaningless treasures that I will leave behind someday for my loved ones. What story will they tell about me? What emotions will they drum up after my passing?  Most of the time I make efforts to avoid personal items of Jacob’s because of the emotional trauma it ignites. But in preparing for moving there is no place to hide and with every item handled there is a memory, a story, there is a smile, a laugh and much sobbing and tears.

Jake parked his 1998 Honda CRV for the last time on March 25th 2014. It has sat unmoved for two years but last weekend time came to clean it out and let it go. He was not the tidiest college student on the planet and his car reflected that.I found his hat and used it to contain his sunglasses, his Adidas cologne and his safety vests from Pro Build lumberyard. I smelled the bottle and remembered how I helped Jake get the job, he really loved working there. Then I threw away some MacDonald’s bags which represented some of the last food he tasted in life-poor kid! I collected his change from the console and discarded a losing scratch off lottery ticket that was with it. There were the tires in the back that I asked him multiple time to have installed which obviously he never got around to. Then I found a well worn senior picture of his friend Gail, I read the message she wrote him on the back and put it in the hat with the other treasures. Then, Under the floor mat I found the most insignificant treasure of the day.

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There on the floor lay Jacob’s once insignificant college ID. The plastic card has 2 corners missing and I wondered what the story was behind that. Then I realized he couldn’t find a guitar pic so he made some out of his ID. I smiled, my heart warmed a bit as I thought about how he loved that Big Baby Taylor we bought for him in the 6th grade. The ID is now in Jacobs treasure box that rests on my wife’s dresser. The forgotten and insignificant ID told me a story and has now become a priceless item to me of the life of my son.

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There were more insignificant treasures found while I painted his brothers room. I found a notebook with bible study notes and lengthy prayer lists that belonged to Jared. I seen Jacob’s name on the list and felt the love he has for his brother and just began to cry. I am crying just thinking of it again.

Then there, on the desk, laid 4 pages of sheet music that belonged to Jacob. He printed off the music to sing Amazing Grace and the Old Rugged Cross at his great granny’s funeral just 3 months before he died himself. He had notations on the paper but what he crossed out again made me shutter inside and begin to weep again. It was a contemporary version of Amazing Grace which had words he crossed out and did not sing. These are the words he crossed out.

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There are indicators when people relapse into their addictions. Jake was no different, we knew when his anxiety was high that he was in danger of relapse and we would love him trough the rough patch. But when Jake overdosed his indicators were hidden well, he was happy, life was very good at the time- apparently too good. This is why his death was so shocking, we knew the signs but the signs didn’t show themselves.

I can only assume what Jake and God only know. Why did he cross out these words? I guess he was feeling the weight of the chains that December before he died. It’s possible that couldn’t sing the words because he was using prescription meds, he was hiding, he was chained again. On March 26th he was set free from it all.

I took the papers  upstairs to the treasure chest and left them with the other things, each having a story of their own.

Very soon we will open his door and reopen the wound. We will discover and rediscover things that once were once insignificant but now have a priceless treasured story.

What will my things say to others when I am gone? What will become treasures to loved ones when fly away? Kind of an odd thing to think on but truly every object has a story and is leaving a legacy for others to remember us by. What will that legacy and story be for you; what will it be for me?

A legacy of love

There is an account in the bible that tells of the very thing I write of today. It occurred in the days of the apostles and you can read it for yourself in Acts chapter 9. It tells of a kind and loving woman who had died in Lydda. Disciples sent for nearby Peter to come quickly which he promptly did. When he arrived he walked into the following scene.

“All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing the tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.” (Acts 9:39)

Why did the widows cling to the clothing? Because the clothing was the emblem of the loving kindness of Dorcas and they clung to it as they mourned the loss of love. This is why  simple, seemingly insignificant items makes us grieve. They retell a love story.

A promise of hope

The apostle Peter had seen Jesus risen from the dead. There is no doubt that Peter believes in the resurrection of dead people, he seen it many times in the three years he spent with Jesus. With confidence in God, he puts out the women, kneels at the bed and calls Dorcas to life through the power of the Spirit of God.

“But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up.” (Acts 9:40-41 ESV)

I am sure that I am going to grieve much as I cling to Jacob’s things in the coming months. Unfortunately, Jesus, Peter or Paul are not next door to call and solve this death problem. Yet, I have hope that my son will someday come out of the ground and be given a new body much like the risen body of my Lord Jesus Christ. He promised it and assured it by his own victory over our greatest enemy death.

A comforting promise

Jesus left behind a cross. It is emblem and legacy that I cling to that brings me great comfort. I will cling to the old rugged cross because there, and only there was sin, death, and hell defeated in one fatal blow. The serpent’s head was crushed and I can have real comfort and real hope in  his resurrection from the dead.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then those who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Be encouraged, be comforted, be hopeful, and be ready my friends!

Behold, I come quickly-Jesus