Hope Honors Loss

For several years, I have wanted to do this one special thing. Finally this year, I accomplished it.

This feat was not a joyous bucket list fulfillment but rather a moment to honor loss.

On Memorial Day, I clipped a couple of hydrangea blossoms from my container garden, wrapped their stems in a wet paper towel and drove to the cemetery.flat stones - cemetery

No one I know is buried in this particular cemetery, but I am grateful this place exists. For some reason, during this time of recovery, I needed a concrete place to grieve.

It is a Catholic cemetery and bless their hearts – these Catholic sisters and brothers who have provided a special place for grievers like me.

Although I am 36 and 34 years from the losses, somehow the harsh reality never leaves me. Probably because I was not offered the solace of a cemetery plot or the finality of physical closure.

But this cemetery has a special section in their Babyland for mothers like me. One area with flat stones set apart from the other tiny plots of infant and young child deaths.

This area of Babyland – the goal of my mission – lists only one date on a stone and sometimes only the name, “Baby.”

These are the stones that indicate a miscarriage or an abortion – a child not fully formed and never held.

On this Memorial Day, toys were scattered across the stones, flowers, an occasional scribbled note, “We miss you.”

How I wish I would have had the opportunity for a physical closure like this – all those years ago. My stones would have read:

Ryan Michael, November 3, 1981, Born and Died

Rachel Elizabeth, January 6, 1983, Born and Died

I do not know where the remains of my babies lie. The D&C surgery that took what was left of them never indicated what happened to their tiny bodies. I probably do not want to know exactly what the medical community does to a miscarried baby.

A wall of remembrance lists children by their death years. I run my fingers through the engravings of 1981 and 1983, then sit on a nearby bench – listen to a cardinal’s song, let the sunshine dry my tears.

I ask God to hold my babies close. To tell them how much I still miss them. To remind them they have a younger brother and what a wonderful man Caleb is.

Still holding my flowers, I wonder where to place them. I wish for some music, a plaintive hymn sung by a quartet or even the solemnity of “Taps.”

My flowers somehow do not belong on any of the already designated stones. I would not impose on the memories of another grieving mother.

Then I see it. The iron and brass cross stands as a sentinel in this sacred place. So I cemetery crossinsert my flowers, believing the Savior on the Cross is also brother and protector of my children.

The hope that echoes through a cemetery sings with the assurance that death is NOT the end. Someday it will have no sting. Life eternal will exist as a cherished reality.

For those of us who never held our babies, hope cries out the beauty of that someday when we will meet our little ones face to face.

Somehow – for now – that is enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

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Growing Hope in the Pain

What is the difference between the pain of growing and the pain of suffering?Pain proves alive

Neither type of pain is comfortable and most of us try to avoid any type of pain. We want life to be struggle-free even if we have to ask the doctor for a prescription to ease our sufferings.

But is there a value to pain? How do we tell the difference between suffering pain and growing pain?

Suffering Pain

Suffering pain is often physical and/or emotional: a sudden illness, the grief of watching a loved one struggle through Alzheimer’s, a broken relationship.

We deal with suffering pain by learning how to persevere, praying for extra grace each day, contacting professionals and trusting God to help us survive one day after the other.

Suffering pain often manifests in our bodies. We see the woman bent over with osteoporosis and we empathize even as we cringe at the deterioration of her spine.

We watch the tears river down a friend’s face and we hear screams of terror when bombs explode. We feel their sufferings and wish we could alleviate them.

Suffering pain is a side effect of living in this world, of aging and being exposed to various strains of germs.

Yet we endure. We persevere. We treat the symptoms and hope for a cure. We try to find hope in the midst of our sufferings.

Growing Pain

Growing pain presses more deeply into our spiritual and emotional selves. We ask the inner questions of faith and rebel when we hear pat answers from those who obviously have not addressed a similar pain or refused to acknowledge it.

Jesus chided the scribes and Pharisees for their simplistic answers based on rules and tradition. He invited questions and never ran away from vulnerability.

Legalism looks at growing pain and condemns it. Jesus invites it because within the questions and the searchings, we discover more about God.

We listen for the divine whisper even as the pain sears our souls and we feel the emptiness of the despairing pit.

Einstein wrote, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”

In my year-long search for a church, I experienced both types of pain. The emotional digs of condemnation and hurts inflicted by people I thought knew better. But also the deep questions of my soul in asking what I really wanted to find in a church and how I could become a better member of my new church family.

Growing. Stretching. Grieving. Within the parameters of pain, we discover how important our faith is and how much we truly care about our soul health.


If we don’t care, then we don’t suffer. Pain proves we are alive and something important has been taken from us.


The grief accompanying pain teaches us about the intensity of love.

Where Hope Dwells

But if we shy away from the pain of growing, then we never come to the place where hope dwells.

In her book, “Rising Strong,” Brene Brown writes, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. But curiosity can lead to hurt. As a result, we turn to self-protecting – choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability and knowing over learning. But shutting down comes with a price.”

So what is the difference between the pain of growing and the pain of suffering? Not much, really, because they feel the same.

The difference lies in how we react to them and which choices we make for dealing with any type of struggle.

We can run from it, refuse to acknowledge it, try to find something to mask it, drown it with a gallon of raspberry fudge ice cream.

But the pain returns because it is often more persistent than we are. Some pain we can never escape.

Ultimately, all pain can cause growth if we open our hearts to the possibilities. We can choose to learn patience through the Long Goodbye or years of rehabilitation that stretch muscles atrophied by disease.

We become stronger by embracing the pain of growing, by asking those deep questions which lead us to learn more about ourselves and God.

The saints who grow through pain are the ones who reflect wisdom and hope into old age. Even when their bodies betray them, they hang on to the hope that pain will eventually ease and the heavenly result will be a crown of gold.

Am I still in growing pain? Somewhat. Not all my questions have been answered and that’s okay. I will continue to ask, to seek, to find.

But now I refuse to listen to legalistic quotes that once soothed me.

I would rather insert question marks into my life than live under the concrete umbrella of condemnation and easy acceptance.

Pain is inevitable on this earth, but an attitude seasoned with grace will offer us the hope we need to keep going, to continue questioning and to march toward the Light.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Within Relationship

Sitcoms and movies often vilify the role of the mother-in-law as in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Monster-In-Law.”

LeoraBut in my situation, that stereotype never materialized. I was not at odds with my mother-in-law. Although we disagreed on politics and how to raise children; we found common ground in our respect for small towns, the Oklahoma Sooners football program and the joy of music.

We shared a love for flowers and jewelry. She was the one who taught me how to care for mums, how to prune them in the spring, then rejoice with the harvest of autumn blooms.

We both enjoyed bling and the challenge of finding perfect accessories for every outfit. I own several pieces of jewelry she gave me and wear them often with her in mind.

She was also the one who tried to show me how to make the perfect pecan pie. But no matter how many times I tried – with her exact recipe – I could never master it. Instead, I saved my calories for the annual Thanksgiving feast and relished every bite of her buttery, rich version.

I sent her cards on her birthday and holidays. She did the same for me, always writing in tiny script at the bottom, “I still love you.” I saved all those cards.

A few months ago, while visiting my own mother, I felt that inner nudge to go see my mother-in-law. I have learned to obey that divine whisper, knowing that God sees the future and asks us to respond in the present.

So I spent several hours with her, saddened by her increasing fragility and the slight aphasia that often interrupted her speech.

Yet we were content to merely sit together, to just be as two women who shared the same last name and the faith that bound us in eternal relationship.

She ate lunch, and I helped cut her meat, arranging the various bowls on her tray to make it easier for her to reach them. She told me she wanted dessert, so I searched for a piece of – you guessed it – pecan pie. I joyed in watching her devour it.

She told me she wanted to live to be 90. “Why 90?” I asked?

“It’s a good number,” she said.

When I left, I kissed her goodbye and said, “I love you.”

She responded, “I love you, too.”

God knew the expanse of her timeline and at 87 years, this past week, she stepped out of her shell and scurried into eternity.

I felt grateful during her memorial service, knowing she would have loved the flowers that surrounded her casket and the way her jewelry accessorized her beautiful red dress.

Even though my heart already missed her, my soul rejoiced that she no longer needed a walker or a cane, no longer wanted for anything.

In spite of the sitcoms and the movies, I know I was lucky to have such a relationship with my mother-in-law. I cherish the memories of strolls through her garden, preparing meals together in her kitchen and one last goodbye.

I love you, Leora. See you on the other side.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo