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Posts Tagged ‘grieving’

I never thought I’d make it six minutes after my brother’s death, let alone six years. But, here I am. Still standing.

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I put on my father’s old leather boots, grab my walking stick, and head up the mountain…

IMG_6540IMG_5006.JPGBy the time I get to the top, I begin to remember the life well-lived instead of only the death that swept me up in its furious agony.

 

IMG_6538And although I can’t explain it, my heart finds a moment of peace in remembering a day I’d rather forget.

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IMG_5549“It’s time,” I said to my husband as we sat together a few weeks ago, talking about the ways grief has touched EVERY part of our lives.

“Time for what?” he responded.IMG_5547

“It’s time for you to film my grief story. So many people are suffering the agony of traumatic loss like we did when my brother took his life. We have to do something to let others know there is help and hope. Will you do that with me?”

IMG_3022So, here it is. If you or someone you love has been touched by traumatic loss…

Please share this video with them.

This is my Story…For Those Who Weep (video)

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I think about death a lot. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not have a death wish. I just wish there was no death.

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Three years ago, I lost my brother and now I’ve lost my grandmother, too. Jay was the highly-favored “baby” of the family and Grammy was our beloved matriarch. To me, they were the opposite ends of life’s delicately-balanced scales and now, I’m tipping.

Why didn’t I know the latter half of my life would be so painful?

-That there would be more goodbyes than hellos.

-That the depth and intensity of my love would become the depth and intensity of my grief.

Why didn’t somebody tell me?!

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I’m lying on the kitchen floor in a puddle; pressing my hot mess against the cool tile. The wailing has subsided to a low moan. My limbs hang limp. Grief is the great paralyzer.

I am a leper slumped against the city gate.

“Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die.” 2 Kings 7:3-4a

The lepers knew that if they didn’t get up, death was certain. If their enemies didn’t find them first, leprosy would eventually chew through their skin. Their only alternative was to get up and go into the city. But death was certain with that option as well. They were hard-pressed either way, or so it seemed.

Enter God.

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With Him there is always a third option as unnerving as that option may seem.

“…Let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” 2 Kings 7:4b

God’s third option included an unthinkable risk: entering enemy territory. But what did these lepers have to lose? Nothing.

And everything.

“At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!’ So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.” 2 Kings 7:5-7

If I stay fetal on the floor, the grief will kill me and I know it. It. Is. Killing. Me. But if I get up, I’ll have to live without the ones I love. I cannot bear the thought. It is impossible to envision a day without them in it. I don’t want to. I can’t!

God, is there a third option for me?

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I never wanted to touch death, it’s just that I’ve been touched by death…and it hurts. Sitting up I pour some cool water into the palm of my hand; sanity splashing me in the face.

Dragging myself to my feet and drawing in a deep breath, I walk over and toss my cry towel in the laundry basket. Kleenex just doesn’t cut it anymore. My steps and thoughts go around in circles before I finally make a decision.

I will enter the enemy’s camp–grief, my Philistine beast.

I will face my enemy head on. After all, what have I got to lose? I pick up my Bible and press it tightly against my chest. I’m not going in there alone.

God, help me.

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And, He does!

Taking some 3×5 index cards, I open my Bible and copy down meaningful passages of scripture.

“O LORD, from the depths of despair, I cry for your help: Hear me! Answer me! Help me!” Psalm 130:1-2

“For he has not despised my cries of deep despair, he has not turned and walked away. When I cried to him, he heard and came.” Psalm 22:24

Verse upon verse, card upon card. There’s a pile of truth mounting at my feet and it sends a shaft of light across grief’s inky black.

The Word is the sound of God in the camp of my enemy.

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The verses I copy down remind me to open my mouth and pray through my pain.

Prayer is the sound of God in the camp of my enemy.

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Praying reminds me to praise Him with my tears.

Praise is sound of God in the camp of my enemy.

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Convinced I could not make it through the next moment, I realize an hour has passed and I’m still breathing.

My breath is the sound of God in the camp of my enemy.

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The story of the four lepers ends when they plunder the abandoned camp of their enemies and share the spoils with others.

I must not keep the plunder from this battle all to myself.

Several hours later, a grieving friend calls. I read her the verses that, hours earlier, plucked me out of death’s grasp. We read the Word of God together. We pray. We cry. We praise. We plunder.

WE are the sound of God in the camp of our enemies.

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FinalCopyFTWW9-25-14fFor Those Who Weep–A Grief Response Journal

Coming November 10, 2014

When you lose someone you love, your heart shatters into a billion tiny pieces. Grief and pain override every other emotion and peace can seem so very far away. If your loved one died tragically, your grief is amplified by shock and the traumatic nature of your loss. How can you possibly survive such heartache? That is where author, Penny A. Bragg, found herself following her brother’s untimely death.

For Those Who Weep—a full-color grief response journal—contains the author’s raw emotions and sacred experiences which occurred during her journey toward hope and healing. Bragg masterfully integrates her artwork into each of the essays in the book; as she reconciled her loss and her faith in God. For Those Who Weep also invites readers to respond to what they’ve read; applying it to their own pain and healing.

Pastors, lay leaders, bereavement counselors, and friends of those who have suffered a loss will also consider this book a priceless resource as they minister to the brokenhearted.

$19.95

Pre-order your copy today.

ForThoseWhoWeep@gmail.com

All proceeds go to fund free art classes for those who are grieving a loss.

 

Because death blows your heart into a billion tiny pieces.

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“Excuse me, Miss. I’m curious about what you’re doing there.” The old man motioned toward the sand as he spoke.

“Is this something personal, or artistic?”

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I didn’t realize anyone had been watching me carve the sand with my toes—camera in hand—so I was somewhat startled by his question.

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“Both,” I suppose.

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“I lost my little brother two years ago today so that makes it personal. And, it’s artistic because I created a blog in his memory. When I leave here, I’ll post these photographs and try to write about my experience.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” His eyes were kind as he respectfully tipped his worn denim hat toward me. I couldn’t help but notice his thin frame and knobby knees.

“Thank you.” I responded, looking into the old man’s eyes.

“How did he die?”

Ah, now there’s a question that is always awkward; kind of like the old man himself.

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“He killed himself.”

My answer startled both of us. Having been asked that question numerous times over the last two years, I’ve always used the phrase, “Jay took his life,” when responding. Somehow saying it that way felt less…intense. It also seemed to soften the blow and minimize the discomfort for the person who asked and for me. That question never gets any easier to answer. While I jump at the chance to talk about my loss as most grieving people do, the suicide factor always pierces my heart clean through.

“I’m so sorry.”

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The old man’s sincerity was rather refreshing.

“Thank you for wanting to know.” I said.  “Most people don’t, or at least they won’t risk asking.”

“Well, it’s beautiful what you’re doing there…for your brother,” he said. “Really beautiful.”

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“This is the best part,” I explained. “Watch what happens next.”

We watched as the tide came in, bringing the magenta-colored daisies with it.

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A few minutes later, a woman who was walking along the shoreline began plucking up each one of the daises from the sand and surf.

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Soon she cradled the entire bouquet.

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I could tell the man was concerned about her picking up the very same flowers I had so tearfully released into the sea.

“It’s alright,” I said, responding to his worry before he had the chance to admit it.

“Every time I release flowers in Jay’s memory, I sit back and watch them for a while. Eventually, the tide brings them back and someone comes by to gather them up with wonder, as if the ocean has handed them a miracle. The last time I did it, a little blonde girl ran along the sand and presented her mother with an ocean-bouquet. I watched as she pointed to the flowers and then out to the waves, trying to explain to her mother where the flowers came from.”

“As I release the flowers, I guess I release my brother all over again. Each petal represents a memory that I treasure. And somehow, God gives Jay back to me. God allows Jay’s memory to be a thing of beauty for someone else who never even knew him.”

“Jay’s life still brings joy, even through his death.”

We sat there for about fifteen minutes talking about life and loss and God before the old man finally stood up, dusted the sand off his cargo shorts, and reached out to shake my hand.

“Bless you,” I said, as he turned and walked away.

Just before I gathered up my things to vacate my sacred spot, a single magenta daisy caught my eye.

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I coddled it gently, as if I was cupping Jay’s face right there in my hands.

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You see, that’s the funny thing about grief. The more you let go, the more God gives you back. I know that’s not some new earth-shattering lesson or anything. It’s been a part of God’s economy from the get-go. Jesus Himself said, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

But the difference is that now, I know this truth.

I know it because I’ve lived it.

I am living it.

Sometimes you just have to live something out for yourself, before it becomes really real, you know?

As a fellow survivor so poignantly put it,

“Once I accepted he was gone…”

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“I realized he never really left.”

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You’d never know it if you saw us all there on that stretch of the shore.

No. You’d never know…

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That her niece was drowned in a pool.

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…and that their husbands just couldn’t go on.

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That my brother ended his anguish…

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Or that their only son was slain.

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No, you’d never know any of this if you saw us there;

In the warmth of the sand and the sun.

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You’d only know that we had made a pilgrimage…

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We’d come with a purpose.

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To let go of her niece.

And my brother.

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To let go of their husbands.

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And their only son.

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And we’d never know it…never comprehend grief’s great mystery.

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That only when we let go of their lives…

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And let the sea swallow all of our pain…

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Would their love be right there…waiting.

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For in our hearts they will always remain.

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“What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage…

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs.”

Psalm 84:5-6

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My journal from January, 2012 contains only two entries. The first is a black “X” across the entire page along with one sentence that reads, “Everything—life as we knew it—changed forever.” The second entry simply says, “I can’t write.”

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In the days following my brother’s suicide, grief paralyzed me in body and soul. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of pain in life: The pain of being outside God’s will, and the pain of being inside God’s will. Having experienced both, I’ve always said I’d take the latter any day. But after Jay took his life, I was tempted to rethink my preferences.

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Someone once said, “Grief is life’s greatest teacher.” I’m not far enough into the journey to pass judgment. When a wound is gaping wide, you don’t care about learning anything. Grief burns a hole through the center of your chest and, frankly, most mourners just want to pick a different teacher.

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My friend, Micki Ann, understands suffering because she has suffered. She says, “Suffering is a seed we are given to steward.” Several months after Jay’s death, Micki Ann gave me a handful of seeds. Even though there were days when I wanted to throw them back at her, I couldn’t deny the fact that her wisdom invited intrigue to inhabit my despair.

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In an effort to prove my friend’s theory, I searched the scriptures.

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It didn’t take long to realize that the Apostle Paul had a real knack for stewarding his suffering. Stonings? Shipwrecks? Paul went through the wringer. That’s what makes him so credible. Given his ordeals, on many nights, Paul’s words stopped my self-pity in its tracks. “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).

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I believe Paul. I really do.

It’s just that in the face of our present pain, eternal glory can seem so very far away.

When I glance up from my computer and see the photos of Jay posted above it, glory’s gates couldn’t feel any farther away.

On days like this, grief outweighs glory—hands down.

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When I used to write essays, articles, or blog posts, I would conclude my thoughts with some neat and tidy resolution.

But, grief isn’t neat, or tidy.

It’s sloppy and snotty. Inconsolable and distressing.

There is no closure, especially with death by suicide. Instead, there are only endless questions that will never be answered.

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Grief makes a writer ramble, but I should at least be woman enough to confess what I can’t gloss over…

I have no prescription for this pain.

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Truth be told, if the J-shaped hole in my heart could be filled with a prescription, I’d be the first person in line for that pill.

I’m not trying to sound dramatic, just honest.

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The temptation to shrink back from my sorrow and suffering is immense. But, there’s no evidence that grief’s purpose is to make us give up.

Paul never backed off from God’s mission. Actually, the opposite is true. It was Paul’s pain that propelled God’s purpose, and he knew it. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 NIV, emphasis added).

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By faith, Paul pressed into his pain and in doing so, his pain shaped his purpose; giving it color and contrast and depth.

And so…

That’s all I know to do.

I press into my pain as I ponder God’s Word.

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I press into my pain as I grasp for Micki Ann’s seeds.

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I press into my pain as I pray that somehow, my lament will offer hope to yours.

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And, somewhere amidst all this pain and pressing…

A tiny bud bursts through the dirt.

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What if suffering isn’t supposed to be a hazard, but a hallmark?

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What if suffering isn’t supposed to be avoided, but embraced?

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What if, instead of shrinking back, I seized my suffering?

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And, what if I let God till this unplowed ground, hoping against all hope, that what sprouts forth will become “an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”? (Isaiah 61:3b NIV)

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God only knows what the seeds of suffering might become.

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And, although there are still days I want to throw my seeds back, I have a sense that if I press into this pain hard enough…

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Redemption will tip the scales in glory’s favor.

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