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6:00 AM on Christmas Morning

6:00 AM on Christmas morning…

The sun hasn’t yet begun to rise. The darkness is silent and still – “not a mouse was stirring”. Even the freeway sounds are absent this morning. The temperature dropped below freezing last night in honor of Christmas I’m sure. It was seventy degrees here in North Texas last Monday and the weekend promises more of the same: but that’s tomorrow and this is today. I’ll pull my coat a little tighter, have another sip of steaming coffee, and relish the quiet.

I think back to Christmas 1982. At 4:00 AM my ex (she wasn’t my ex then just so you know…) shook me awake. “I think I’m in labor”.

I turned over and asked, “how far apart are the contractions?”

“I haven’t timed them yet”.

“Oh okay. Let me know when the next one comes”, I said sleepily.

I had awakened enough to know I needed to head upstairs to the bathroom. As I walked past the picture window along the stairs, I saw the snow coming down hard. Only about half of the chain link fence was visible. “This is not good”, I mumbled. When I returned to bed, she told me she thought it was a false labor. I crawled back in bed and fell back asleep.

I awoke a couple of hours later and once again slid out of bed and headed upstairs to make coffee. As I passed the window once again, I noticed that only the pointed tops of the four-foot fence were visible. I opened the back door to check on my car. All I could see was its blue roof poking through the snow. The driveway and the alley were covered in three feet of snow and even larger drifts. This really wasn’t good…

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Adrian, our oldest, woke up and he and his Mom came in the kitchen. She put down and he promptly ran to the living room to see what Santa had brought. I poured the coffee and went into the living room. My Christmas morning excitement was tempered by the realization that my ex might really be in labor.

The snow continued to fall – and fall and fall and… You get the idea. Denver was in the middle of a “hundred year” blizzard.

About 9:00 in the evening my ex looked at me and said, “I really am in labor now”. The contractions were now seven minutes apart. I knew there was no way we could get my car out of the drive. I called 911 and explained our situation. Apparently, labor is not an emergency. It would be a four to five hour wait for an ambulance and we were told to go the nearest hospital labor and delivery rooms. I figured I’d been through one birth already. I mentally prepared to deliver a baby at home. I prayed – a lot!

There was a knock at the door about thirty minutes later. A gentleman had responded to the pleas for citizens with four-wheel drive to ferry paramedics around. Three paramedics greeted me as I opened the door.

We gathered go-bags and our son together and filed out through the path the paramedics had made to the door. They assisted my poor wife who, at 5’3”, was trying to make her way through the four feet of snow. Once to the care, the 6 of us (and all the paramedic kits) piled into an old Jeep Waggoneer. The driver informed my very pregnant wife that between contractions she would have to reach outside and keep the snow of the windshield as the wipers didn’t work. Of course, they didn’t…

We found ourselves in a strange hospital with a strange doctor who had obviously been there long past hi original shift (he was a bit cranky). We were just getting settled into the labor room when the nurse said, “it’s time”. My wife was wheeled down to the delivery room and I changed into scrubs. Less than an hour later I was holding a brand-new bundle of joy – Jeremy Alan Joel.

I slept in a nurse’s lounge that night. When I returned to my wife’s room, I was greeted with a Christmas gift that I’ll never forget – Jeremy in a red stocking with a Santa hat on.

When Adrian, my oldest son, was born, parenting didn’t seem as difficult as we thought. Then we had Jeremy. We’ve often joked (kind of…) that Jeremy made his appearance in the world with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other demanding to be fed NOW. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Sitting here on Christmas morning I’m reminded how blessed I am. For thirty-seven years I was given the gift of a son I miss dearly today. I was also given a Savior – God With Us – to walk me through the grief I have today. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life who know what losing a child is like. I have a God that knows my grief even more so – “This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and Only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help and put the world right again” John 33.16-17 (The Message).

My son was a brilliant artist (our first home had the marker and crayon marks to foretell this), but his greatest achievement was threefold – Baillie, Izabella, and Lucas. Today I will think of the wonderful gifts he left us. The gift I offer him is honoring his gift to me.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jeremy

Acceptance, Children, Choices, Community, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Gratitude, Grief, Letting Go, Parents, Prayer, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch

The Journey…

The birds are uncharacteristically quiet this morning. There are few cars on the distant freeway and aside from the occasional angry squirrel chatter, a golden silence fills the day. I love mornings like this. The coffee goes down a tad smoother and tight muscles slowly unwind in the morning air. God has blessed me once again with another day on “the right side of the roots” as my friend Railroad Charlie would say.

I try to soak up moments like these. They’ve been few and far between the last four-and-a-half months. The farm has been a lifesaver but there’s been a constant cloud of grief since Jeremy died. I still have difficulty with the word “died”. It reminds me of the finality of the whole situation. I usually talk about his “passing” rather than his “dying” as if to hold on to the opaque hope that this has all been a bad dream. The word choices don’t change reality though. Death is part of life so call it what it is.

I’m glad I get to work the farm. Work provides focus, but I always second guess myself and wonder if it’s a way to avoid dealing with the loss. We have many terrific volunteers that come out regularly to help, but I leave it to Stacey, our Volunteer Coordinator, to deal with them and pass out work assignments. I put my head down and try to stay as faraway as possible. I pray they don’t consider it unfriendly. Other folks are simply overwhelming right now.

 The Kubler Ross Grief model names five stages of the grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I feel stuck in the depression stage these days. Honestly, the stages come and go daily – even acceptance – but depression is terrifying. Those who have suffered from depression know what I’m talking about.

I’m fortunate. I suffered from the chemical imbalance that causes depression. Medication worked for me. It wasn’t a quick fix. It took working with my doctor until I had the right dosage and medication to pull me out of the dark depths of depression. Now it seems to be taking over again – the irritability, the clouded thinking, the attention deficit, and sadness. This time it’s not something that can be fixed. I get that it’s situational – it’s not a quick fix, but a natural process – but that doesn’t make it any less frightening.

I’m blessed to have a circle of love and emotional support around me. I’m not confused – some people don’t have that. I have faith in a loving God who I know is carrying me through this. I don’t have to be afraid, but I am sometimes. I’m so grateful for the folks in my life, even if I tend to isolate lately. I’ve even been able to find gratitude in my world despite my loss. I know that one day I’ll look back and see the beautiful tapestry of life God is (and has always) woven for me.

I’m thankful I’ve been given the tools to work through this. I’m extremely grateful I haven’t had to make many amends for talking out the side of my neck. I’m grateful for the WordPress community – I’ve been able to begin reading (and comprehending!) again those of you I follow. Your writing has often done more for me than you know.

I’m finally able to begin writing thank you notes (without freezing up) to the many friends have been so kind and supportive to my family. Above all, I’ve been able to sit down and begin writing again. I may not do it well, but I’m able to have “Thoughts From the Porch” again.

Awe, Children, Community, Culture, Depression, Emotional Health, Family, Friendship, Generations, Gifts, Gratitude, Grief, Parents, Relationships, Resurrection, Survivors, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Time Out

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat down to write over the last couple of months. The words always fail to make the journey from my brain to my fingers. It’s not “writer’s block”. Emotions rise and shut down everything else in the process. Grief sucks.

I’ve been able to journal somewhat, but I often feel no one wants to hear another story about my grief and so it goes unfinished and unpublished. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can share these days. It doesn’t mean that other things, good things, haven’t been happening. It’s just that sadness and loss over-shadows them all. I miss my son…

I know this is part of the process. There will come a day when sorrow won’t dim the light all around. I’m not sure when that day is, but I know that it will come. My friend Jim used to tell me that in the meantime, it’s a mean time. Until I’m farther along in this journey I’ll feel what I need to feel and try not to be hard on myself…

Although the cloud of grief is never far away there’s much to be grateful for. I’m grateful for the love and support our family has received from so many friends. I’m grateful for Opal’s Farm and the reminder that life is circular – sow, harvest, and repeat – constant resurrection. Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen Jeremy honored in ways I never expected, and I’ve been given places to sit and still my spirit comforted by Jeremy’s “presence”.

One of Jeremy’s friends and fellow artist, Jay Wilkinson, painted a twenty-foot high mural of Jeremy on the side of Hop Fusion Brewery here in Fort Worth. It captures Jeremy perfectly and I can’t think of a better place to put it. Jeremy had done the indoor murals at the brewery. When this coronavirus lets up, I hope you all get a chance to have a cold one and check out Jeremy’s work. You don’t have to wait to see Jay’s work though. Thank you, Jay. You’ve given me a special place to just “be”.

I’m simply amazed…
Thank you Jay

Last Saturday, Juan Valazquez finished a mural at Mananaland, a local gallery where Jeremy had been artist in residence. His likeness now graces the whole front of the building. I was unable to be there when he painted (spray painted mind you!) the piece. Thanks to Desiree, Michael, Baillie, and Adrian for representing the family.

Mananaland – Juan Valazquez

As for my WordPress community, I miss you all. I haven’t read much the last couple of months, so I haven’t maintained contact with those I follow and vice-versa. I’m simply taking a break and letting the process take me where it needs to. Love you all and hope to see you soon.

Belief, Children, Choices, Community, Connection, Creation, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Gifts, Grace, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Grief, Honor, Opal's Farm, Parents, Prayer, Relationships, Resurrection, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Work, Writing

Gratitude in the Time of Loss…

I slept in today. It was 7:30 before I greeted the morning with a cup of coffee and some prayer. The Saharan dust cloud that drifted across the Atlantic Ocean and into the southern United States has left a greyish haze over what would normally be a sunny to partly cloudy day. It fit my mood for the day…

Perhaps the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. At least that’s what I told myself. The reality is that I’m tired. Grief is tiring. It drains me of all energy and drive, leaving me at times with an overwhelming sadness. Some days I simply feel defeated.

It may be too early in the grieving process to find gratitude in loss, but I’ve learned that gratitude is a powerful tool to change perspective and move forward. I can still be grieving the loss of my son and find the gratitude to move forward. Ironically, when I came in from the porch to check emails, the first three were links to articles on gratitude. I’m not huge on the whole numbers/numerology thing, but when I see or hear something three times I tend to listen. That’s usually when God tries to get my attention. This is what came to mind this morning…

First, what I’m going through is a part of life. Grief is a common experience to us all. Life is about birth and death. Everyone experiences loss. The loss of a child is a particular type of pain. My friend Edgar told me that there is no name for our pain. Someone who loses a spouse is a widow or widower. Children who lose their parents are called orphans. There is no name for people who lose their kids. Perhaps it’s because no one can find words for it.

I’m grateful for the outpouring of love and support from my friends and family. I’m especially grateful for those that acknowledge there are no to offer and not trying to offer comfort other than “I’m here”. Jeremy’s passing has shown me how blessed I am with the amazing people God has put into my life. I’m reminded I’m part of a community. Most importantly, I’m thankful I’ve been allowed to feel what I need to feel, and I don’t have to walk this journey alone.

Secondly, I’m extremely grateful for Opal’s Farm. I’ve always told people about “dirt therapy”. I can now say without a doubt it’s truly therapeutic. Something about seeing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in a garden centers me. It reminds me I’m part of something greater; that I’m a part of creation. After all, that’s why God created man to live in a garden…

Lastly (for this post anyway), it dawned on me this morning that Jeremy’s passing never caused me a crisis of faith. I’ve never doubted God’s goodness during this time. That’s a big deal. Had this happened several years ago I’m not sure I could say that. My coping systems were flawed then. I probably never would have recognized God’s constant presence and protection. I miss Jeremy dearly, but God didn’t “take him” from me. Instead, He’s carrying me through this time of grief. He helps me be there for my grandkids and those left behind who loved Jeremy so much.

“Ghost” by Jeremy Joel

I know there will be good days and bad days in the coming weeks, months, and even years as grief ebbs and flows. I’m still early in the process and the crash is still coming. Thank God for the people in my life who’ve experienced this special kind of pain and will lead me through the process. I know that gratitude can be found in even the most dire of circumstances if I search diligently enough. For those days when gratitude is elusive God will pick me up and carry me until strength returns and I’m able to walk the path hand in hand with Him again…

Courtesy of KERA/Art and Seek

https://artandseek.org/2020/06/10/remembering-jeremy-joel-artist-friend-father/?fbclid=IwAR3_1TgijHW3iZ65otwVcL3-nopdovKXPekEy0h0pIXIBMMCampHnUianSs