Melancholy Memories

christmas5A week ago, my husband and I welcomed our children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, and nephews to our home to celebrate Thanksgiving. My heart was full as, in turn, we shared what we were grateful for. Family, food, mountains, and home were some of the blessings we listed. And LOVE – an expansion of heart that allows us to connect at a deep emotional level that transcends any thing that we acquire.

As I hugged my children and grandchildren and siblings goodbye, my heart was filled to capacity with that love. And I felt happy.

The next day, after all the family had left, my husband and I began the task of taking down Thanksgiving decorations and replacing them with our beloved Christmas decorations, collected over the many years that we have been married, thirty-plus years in all. Thirty-plus years that we have laughed and cried and yelled and fought and played and prayed together – and LOVED.

Through every up and down, good day and bad, we LOVED.

And on this day of transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas, as we lined up each of the thirty-plus dated ornaments and placed them in succession on the tree, I felt sad. In the midst of a heart full of love, I felt sad. Not an overwhelming sorrow or sinking depression or scary feeling of helplessness – just sad.

Sad that children are grown, that Santa needn’t stop at our place this year. Sad that we will spend our first Christmas Eve in our entire married life with just the two of us.

I thought for a minute about this sadness and realized I was no longer afraid of sad. I had spent much of my life trying to cover up sadness, run from sadness, and fight sadness. And on this quiet night as my husband and I embraced – I was no longer afraid.

Instead, my heart was again filled to capacity – with love.

Mom’s Visit

hobblecreek15Yesterday was Mom’s birthday, and she showered me with gifts when I visited her heaven on earth.

I drove down the little dirt lane toward the tiny house where children’s memories dart to life like the dragonflies that guard the crystal pond.

The river flows faintly now, weary from the long, hot summer; yet her banks remember the lively spring when she carried winter’s swift melting snow, depositing pebbles and sand – a diary of her once exuberant life.

I was met by a family of turkeys – eight or ten or twelve – who gathered together and slowly moved to the far side of the fence. They glanced cautiously towards me as they continued their elegant march through the golden field next door.hobblecreek1

There is safety in numbers.

I inspected the home – Mom’s little cabin – guarded by a squirrel who sat on hind legs with muscles taut and dared me to enter. And enter I did, just for a moment, then heeded Mom’s call to the other side. Across the river to the edge of the pond, heaven awaited. Still and reverent – and alive.

I sat quietly, without breath, and watched as the dragonflies came up to inspect this earthly creature – me – who had entered their celestial space. Their wings caught the sun like an angel’s would. Indeed, they were angels carrying God’s message to my heart. hobblecreek7 hobblecreek16 hobblecreek17

“Mom, won’t you come to me?” I cried silently as tears escaped my eyes.

I looked into the heavenly sphere which reflected earth’s brilliance – a mirror of all that is good. Mountains and sky and soft downy clouds reached across the pond to touch my feet and enter my heart.

hobblecreek10Across the pond, a family of six ducks slipped quietly into the glassy water. Gracefully they swam next to the water’s edge at the far end of heaven and crossed to the other side. Then one by one, never breaking the eternal line, they climbed up the bank in the same order they had entered into the crystal pool, and made their way out of sight to other adventures. I was reminded of my own family, bound together with love and light that reaches past this earthly realm into the next .

Mesmerized by the dancing dragonflies, I barely heard the rustle behind me. One step and then another tentatively approached the open clearing behind me.

I turned my head, wondering who had invaded my being. And my gaze met Mom’s. A beautiful doe looked straight into my heart. Waiting for my unspoken invitation, she took another step towards me. One step…two…three…and four. Ever closer she came, never once turning away her wide brown eyes which peered into my soul. In silence we sat. Love encircled us both, creating one.

hobblecreek11

As slowly as the doe had come to visit me, she left. Carefully and deliberately, looking back one last time to say goodbye.

Then silence.

“Mom, won’t you come to me?” I had cried.

And she did.

In Mom’s heaven.

What You Don’t See

fishbowl.2The other day, I had the opportunity to stand beside three beautiful women and share a piece of my heart – my story. I then listened as these women shared their own stories of triumph, their stories of HOPE and HEALING despite heartbreak.

Through our sharing, we became instant friends, joined together by our collective hurts, and our collective healing. We smiled for the Facebook picture, hugged, and said our goodbyes – better for having come together.

I spoke for twenty minutes, a story I’ve shared dozens of times. I am compelled to share my story, led by an unseen hand.

By the end of lunch with one of these wonderful women, I struggled to find words. My brain was done thinking and doing – ready just to BE. At home, I changed into my pajamas, went to bed with my phone, and “liked” all of the posts about the beautiful event.

The next day, I stayed in bed much of the day. My head “jiggled,” as I affectionately refer to the vibration that follows over-stimulation or cognitive work. I was nauseous and off-balance and my head pounded in my skull.

No one but my husband saw the struggles of the morning after. The Facebook world saw my smile.

I love smiling. And I love coming together in our strength. But I must also acknowledge the pain. I must honor and respect the hurt and the lessons it teaches me.

A few months ago, I reached out privately to a beautiful friend, Laura, who courageously shares her own hurt. She shares her journey in hopes of helping even one person LIVE despite pain. Laura’s daughter, Hannah, took her life following a traumatic brain injury and Laura has been walking the long and often lonely road of healing since then, learning lessons that can be taught in no other way.

“I wanted to reach out to you privately to say thank you,” I wrote. “Thank you for being a standard bearer and for helping us to find meaning in our suffering – whether mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual. As we share our stories, we give courage to others to share their stories, and by so doing, we begin our own healing journeys. By our joint sharing, we are able to bear one another’s burdens and, in humility, allow our burdens to be born by friends, family, strangers, and neighbors – and by our Savior.

“After your post yesterday asking us to redefine mental illness, I thought about my own TBI and how very dark my brain was in the weeks and months directly following my injury. Nothing could be found on an MRI that said definitively that my brain was injured, but I knew it was. And there wasn’t anything I could do to will my brain to work. The harder I tried, the darker it got – the more confused, the more jumbled, the more broken I felt. I would cry without any thoughts at all – because I couldn’t think a clear thought. And I couldn’t control when I cried – for no apparent reason. I did everything the doctors told me to do – I sat quietly for 9 weeks on my back porch before attempting to return to work, and yet I still had severe cognitive impairment at 12 weeks post injury.

“Work was impossible. I couldn’t look at a computer screen without becoming dizzy or manage the multiple tasks facing me. I couldn’t learn new things. I couldn’t do old things. My speech therapist recommended an I-phone to help me remember things. My life was speech therapy, physical therapy, balance therapy, doctor appointments, etc. etc.

“At one very dark point, I remember crying and talking to my mom, “Mom, I get it now, I get it.” I understood this very real desire to end the misery. I felt a measure of the darkness that she must have felt before she ended her life. I felt completely alone and helpless to fix me. And hopeless.

“Well meaning family members encouraged me to not quit work and apply for disability because then I would be disabled for life. ‘Just think more positively, Wendy,’ they would say. ‘Quit talking about how your brain doesn’t work and focus on healing.’ What they didn’t know was that every single day I focused on healing. I worked with alternative healers. I worked with psychologists and neurologists and neuropsychologists. I tried to visualize and to bring light into my very dark and scattered brain. And I still could NOT will my brain to work.

“Instead, I had to turn my will over to God.

“Three and a half years later, I still feel like a sheet of black cellophane is covering my brain when I try to think or process. Everything takes a hundred times longer. I often describe my brain as trying to swim through mud – or, when I’ve had too much stimulation, like sparks flying in an uncoordinated display of fireworks. At night when I can’t sleep, it’s not because my mind is racing – because words don’t come. It’s because my mind is jumping – literally – and the vibration I feel in my brain and throughout my body makes it impossible to sleep. Sometimes I ask my husband to hold my head so that by his calming energy, my brain can settle.

“There have been beautiful blessings that have come because I can no longer ‘think’ the way I used to be able to. I have learned to be still. To close my eyes and ‘see’ God’s hand in my life, and let his finger touch my heart. I have learned to love more deeply and to feel God’s love. I have gained a light much brighter than that which was lost. And I am grateful for the lessons I have learned.

“I KNOW that Hannah is helping many others to LIVE despite darkness. And just because we can’t see the darkness on an MRI scan, it doesn’t make it any less real. I also KNOW that beyond the darkness there is light. Light which we cannot see but is every bit as real as the darkness. There IS a Savior. And it is to that HOPE that I cling.”

Laura

*To find out more about Hannah’s story, please visit livehannahshope.org

*Like Live Hannah’s Hope on Facebook

July 24 – HONEY BEES AND SUNFLOWERS

bee 4Tomorrow, my home state celebrates the arrival of Brigham Young and other early pioneers to Salt Lake City in 1847. These early pioneers referred to Utah as the “Beehive State,” to reflect the qualities they held dear – qualities of industry, perseverance, thrift, and self-reliance.

I grew up with a mother and father who instilled these same qualities in me. As a young girl, I was expected to contribute to our family by completing my weekly “Saturday Chores,” weeding the garden, helping Mom can fruit, and cleaning Dad’s office along with the rest of the family. In my early teens, Dad hired me to call prospective clients and schedule appointments for them to meet with him. I was expected to contribute half of the money for school clothes, trips, and education.

So,

I worked.

And worked.

And worked!

I worked until I could no longer work.

Following a bicycle accident nearly four years ago where I suffered a traumatic brain injury, I was unable to return to my work as a nurse manager. I was devastated. Nursing had been my life for 20 years. And now I couldn’t make my brain work.

I was instructed to sit quietly and avoid over-stimulating my concussed brain. I couldn’t read or look at a computer screen or watch television or listen to music without severe consequences. It was difficult to carry on a conversation or keep my balance. My neuropsyche exam showed severe cognitive impairment. And I panicked the first time I went back to church a block away – when I walked out the doors at the end of the meeting, nothing looked familiar. I didn’t know how to get back home.

I couldn’t WORK.

An angel friend encouraged me to trust God. So instead of working in the traditional sense of the word, I worked on LISTENING. I rekindled my faith – I sat quietly – and I looked to God.

Others cleaned my home and mowed my lawn and cooked my meals. And I sat quietly while the world continued to buzz around me.

The other day while sitting quietly in my garden, I watched for over an hour while dozens of bees darted here and there and buzzed around my beautiful sunflowers. And I was reminded by God that the sunflower has every bit as important a calling as the busy bee. The sunflower that gifts its sweet nectar, looks to the light and shares its beauty just by BE-ing.

And while we in our human form have defined what “WORK” looks like, God has his own definition.

And together, the bee and the sunflower both perfectly fulfill God’s divine purpose.

Let there be LIGHT

alaska mountain 3This week, I returned from a long-awaited vacation to Alaska. I marveled at the bigger than life mountains with the gigantic trees, two foot tall dandelions, and skunk cabbage with four foot long leaves – all soaking up the twenty hours a day of sunshine.

LIGHT.

ALL DAY LONG.

And all night too.

dandelion 4One night at 10:30 p.m., people were still fishing for salmon at 10:30 p.m. in the river just outside our hotel room window. Still not quite sunset. Smiles and laughter and busyness celebrated LIGHT – and life.

alaska flowersWhile there, we heard stories of the long, harsh night of winter – three hours of dusk – and then blackness. Headlamps illuminate just the few feet in front of you.

Despite the darkness, person after person described leaving everything behind to move there from across the country – across the world – to become one with the night and the promise of day.

Life is hard in darkness, but magnificent are the rewards of enduring the cold, bitter night – bigger than life beauty. Warmth. Sunshine.

DAY.

And after the blackness,

Let there be…

LIGHT.

alaska sunset 1