Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blue Christmas Again

"It feels entirely impossible that I will live the rest of my life without my brother's physical presence. It feels like a horrible dream and a cruel joke." 

These are the words I read this morning from a precious friend on facebook. Another bereaved mother is inviting her community to a mass in her daughter's honor on Christmas Eve. Our new friends in Joplin, MO are suffering through their first terrible Christmas after the crushing tornado that killed so many. A precious Maui friend is experiencing her first lonely Christmas with her husband in Heaven, as many local Navy SEAL families here are facing their first tough Christmas morning without daddy.

My thoughts turn hourly toward many friends who are suffering loss this Christmas,  and one very precious family that is anticipating loss as they bravely wend their way through another Christmas with a terminal cancer prognosis. I worry about them all, and pray for them, and ask God to pour mercy on them. I have met so many broken-hearted people now, and know there is a whole, almost invisible, substrata of people for whom the Christmas holiday is truly excruciating. It's a fount of once sweet memories that has now become a painful reminder of deep, unrecoverable loss. Doug Coupland said, "Christmas makes everything twice as sad." There are no quick cures under the tree for these hurting people.

This is our fourth Christmas without Joey, and we are in an edgy, restless, unmanageable funk. You might think we would be used to it, but we are not. After 28 Christmases with our vibrant son, one who lit up our lives, we are not going to "get over" his absence anytime soon. It still cuts deeply and we are in a bit of a wilderness trying to be part of the holidays with our friends and church, but mostly longing to simply wander into a cave for a week or two and cry. It creates an unwieldy divide inside the soul.

Scripture calls death an enemy. The Bible  never glosses over death, or tries to minimize it in any way. It is the thief of everything that is good in this life--love, companionship, hopes and dreams--and the Bible tells the truth about it. But it also gives us hope that death will not be the end of the story. I cling to these words of Jesus:

John 10:27-29 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

And these from the Apostle Paul:

1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

It's true that there is no quick cure for grief and loss, and it won't be fixed today or tomorrow. It does require a patient wait for the things God has prepared for us. But they are coming and that is our solid hope. I believe the reassurances about the world to come--a place where there will be no more death, sorrow, sickness or separation. My anchor is there. I lifted it out of the miry pit of this world, and sunk it into the solid rock of Heaven when my son left. My hope is there.
For now, we get through the days as we can. No small task, but we find our ways. My friend in CO bakes and quilts, my friends in OH preach, and my friend in WA writes and collects blankets for the children's hospital. We give as we can and no longer expect so much from this world. We weep with those who weep. We don't ride the wave of false joy that the television specials and commercials promote. We get in and out of stores as fast as we can. We don't relate to Jolly St. Nick or jolly anything else. Jolly is a thing of the past.
Rather, we endure like a runner in a marathon, for the trophy at the end of the race. We keep our "eyes on the prize" and ignore the distractions on the sidelines. We anticipate the party that will be had then--a true celebration, with true comfort and true joy. And best of all, the truth that makes it possible to survive this sorrowful world, we will all be together at the finish line.

Though it isn't easy, that, when all is stripped away, is somehow turning out to be enough.

“They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies.” ~ William Penn

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Son's Handiwork

My son created this video as part of his ongoing ad campaign for Red  Bull in 2007. It's all for fun and I'll spoil it for you by telling you that Miguel del Toro is a fictitious character. I love the subliminal advertising with the pro surfers wearing Red Bull hats.  It's had over a half million hits on youtube.  He also did a Red Bull campaign with Shawn White, the Olympic  snowboarder. I posted about that during the last Winter Olympics.   

Just one more reason why I miss our kid so much.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

John, Curt, Patti, Jeff

This is one of my favorite pictures of my friends, Curt and Patti. Curt went home to be with the Lord on December 4, after suffering through a brain tumor and treatment. He was a great man and a  pastor at our Maui Church. The following words are from a comment I wrote on his family's blog. We will miss you, Curt. All our love to Patti and the family.  

Fifteen years of sharing a men's group with Joe, week after week, year after year, Joe said Curt was a true friend and a support through thick and thin--one of the dearest friends of his life. One of my (Karen's) most cherished memories is of our son's Baldwin High graduation. Joey wore Maui casual: slippers and shorts under his gown, thinking he could outsmart the dress code of slacks, shoes, shirt and tie. Not a chance. They pulled him out of the line up and said, "NO slacks, no diploma". We were too far from Kihei to make it back in time. The traffic outside the stadium was snarled in a standstill. Nonetheless and without a moment's hesitation, Curt came to the rescue. Despite the fact that his own daughter was also graduating, he blasted out of the stadium, drove home, grabbed the necessary garb from his own closet and got it back to Baldwin High in the nick of time for our son to walk the processional with his classmates. I cannot see those graduation photos without seeing Curt, the man who made it possible.

Curt was a man of character, unselfishness, wisdom, strength, calm and determination. He seemed to intuitively know how to solve just about any problem--he'd seen it all. He was kind, friendly, and the best Sunday morning emcee I've ever seen. He knew how to take the cringe out an awkward moment and make everyone relax.

The last time I saw Curt, he was at the beginning of his cancer, in the hospital, post-surgery. Our trip to Maui coincided, and I was so glad we were able to see him. As we surrounded him in a circle of prayer and support, I saw one tear trickle down his cheek. That is my final and most poignant memory of him. I think he knew it was the beginning of the end of his life's journey, and though he was courageous, I think it was the realization that this was going to be his goodbye to all of us. We were so optimistic, and I only realize this now in hindsight. I am so glad I had that moment with that beautiful man. We will miss our dear friend, and know that Heaven is better for having him there--though we are poorer without him. Thank you, Curt, for being an amazing, good and faithful servant, and our friend.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Andrea Bocelli Sings "Time to Say Goodbye"

Lyrics translated:

When you are far away

I dream of the horizon

and words fail,

and, yes, I know

that you are with me;

you, my moon, are here with me,

my sun, you are here with me

with me, with me, with me.

Time to say goodbye. -- I'll go with you

to countries I never

saw and shared with you,

now, yes, I shall experience them.

I'll go with you

on ships across seas

which, I know,

no, no, exist no longer,

with you I shall experience them again.

I'll go with you.

I watched the "Andrea Bocelli in Central Park" PBS special tonight. Wept my way through this song--a mother's song. It filled me with sorrow, longing and hope for the world to come.
Hope this comforts some other mothers who are missing their beautiful children this Christmas, and for anyone missing someone essential...may God comfort each of you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Suffering and Hope

What I encountered just last weekend:
 a young man's suicide while he was away at college,
a mother whose teen daughter was killed in an auto accident
at an uncontrolled traffic intersection,
a Missouri city ravaged by a freak tornado
and 116 random deaths,
our Maui pastor succumbing to brain cancer,
military widows and their children gathering together
at a hotel in West Virginia.

Every day, the bell tolls. Death, grief, loss.
It cannot be ignored.
It cannot be controlled.
It cannot be contained.

 The ability to bounce back after trauma and loss.
The ability to scale a jagged mountain of shock, sadness, and sorrow,
 on your hands and knees,
and keep going
while knowing
there are yet more mountains
to be scaled.

I guess I can say now that I have it.

It requires endurance.
"I can do this for now."

It's based on hope.
"It won't always be this way." 

It relies on trust in the Truth Teller.
"If it were not so, He would have told me".

Rev 21:3-5
 I also heard a loud voice from the throne which said: "Behold, God's dwelling-place is with men, and he shall dwell among men, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them. He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning nor wailing, nor pain, for the first things have passed away."
The One who is seated on the throne said:
 "Behold, I make all things new!"
And he added, "Write this:
'These words are faithful and true.'"

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Chase is back from Michigan.

Sean is back from deployment.

Reunited,  when so many are not.

All is as it should be.

Our cherished relatives have arrived.

Our wonderful nephew is here...

...with his beautiful family, and his parents, Don and Viv. (sorry, not pictured)

We also have the joy and honor of sharing the next few days with our dear daughter-in-love, Rachel, and her sweet Mama Layne.

Later today, a bunch of beloved friends will be arriving to share dinner with us.
We are all bound together by love and loyalty, faith and hope.

Crystal with her nephew, George, who is in Heaven with Joey. Our friend on the road of grief and joy.
For this comfort and these blessings, I give thanks.

God has been good to us. We are eating an enormous meal today, and know that's a privilege. We have enough to share with others, and know that's a responsibility. God has been compassionate toward us, and met every need.

His mercies have been new every morning of our past three years. We have cherished family, and new friends who have shared their love and lives with us.

We have new eyes and new dreams, and can see things we never noticed before. Our hearts have been tenderized. We have hope for the future, a different but better hope.  We know where our true home is--where our heart's desires will be found.

We know that life is brief, that we can bear sorrow and endure difficulty, and that is not the end of the story. We know there is a new world coming with no more tears.
I hope you all are comforted and encouraged by the goodness of God today.

Psalm 107:1 says, "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever."

Monday, November 07, 2011

URL or IRL (In Real Life)

There is some discussion in my little blog world about the value of on-line friends vs. real life friends. One of my bereaved mom friends wrote about it here.  I admit I have spent an enormous amount of time online in the past three years. Beyond the pale. My husband and children have probably shaken their heads more than once to find me propped up in my favorite chair with a cup of tea and my computer open on my lap. Perhaps it's not been the best use of time, but I am incredibly thankful for the technology that has gotten me through countless sleepless nights and restless days. It became my drug of choice when trying to deal with a weight on my chest that felt like a boulder and couldn't be moved. Some use alcohol, some use sleeping pills or painkillers. I use the internet.

In that cyberworld, I found friends who had "been there",  and friends who were at that very moment exactly where I was. They expressed words for which I had no vocabulary. They gave companionship and comfort in the cold and harsh landscape to which I had been sentenced. I had some friends in real life that did the same, and most of that comfort also came via the internet--text messages and email and facebook. In moving to be near our living children, it necessitated that we move away from our support system.  At some point in the past three years,  most of my friends and family actually became online friends.

That is slowly changing now. I am gradually regaining a real life, with real moving people in it, but it's not good enough.  My real life is often about activities, checklists, getting things done. My online world is more interior. It's about thoughts, feelings and exploring deeper meanings. I get to reflect with others who are figuring out how to live in a strange new land. I would prefer that they all lived near me and that I could meet with them each day, but that won't ever be.  So my URL world must do the job. It is essential now for balance. It cannot be replicated in real life, and it doesn't fit into the perfunctory and superficial routines of a typical day. The urgings to "have a good day", when I am out and about, don't meet the needs of my searching heart. And though I nonetheless smile and nod my head, I can do it knowing I have another place where I am known.

I have been on a journey that I didn't choose and for which I was unprepared. My own resources,  which had been fairly adequate up to that point in my life, were quickly tapped and emptied. I needed more. I found it online with people who bothered to care. Their daily encouragements, their letters, their shared sorrow, the conversations about the harrowing, yet spiritual places of grief...all so precious. I owe them a great deal and cherish the friendship of many whom I have never or barely met. I bless their presence in my life, and the  internet that gave them to me. I believe now that I have been sitting at God's big table of love.

Ps.42:7,8 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me-- a prayer to the God of my life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


It is difficult to accept
that my son's precious body
Is now
A box of ashes.
I bore nurtured fed that body.
Nine months inside of me.
Flesh of my flesh,
A soft round baby
Later a long-limbed boy.

I clothed it
Soothed it when it was sick,
Washed it's dirty face and hands,
Took it to the doctor and the dentist,
Pampered it with hot cocoa or sometimes breakfast in bed.

Full size at six foot two,
Shiny auburn hair
Warm chocolate brown eyes
An engaging snaggle-toothed smile
Handsome and straight in a three piece suit
Relaxed in board shorts and flip-flops.
It reflected his aspects well.

Long legs and agile fingers defined it
the long loping stride
the long articulate fingers sliding contentedly
over the neck of a guitar or ukulele
full voice when it sang,
distant eyes when it was thinking deeply,
a sly grin when it teased.

I loved being hugged by that tall boy.
Sliding me gently under his arm and shoulder.
Wrapping his long arms around each of us
Like a blanket.
I loved the person inside that body.
And I loved the body too.
It was him.

Now it's gone.
Barely salvaged
in one-dimensional photographs
and our fading memories.

The ashes stunned me when we picked them up
wrapped in a box
shrouded in
a blue velvet bag with a gold tassle.
As if anything could represent it's beauty.
Nine pounds.
Just a few ounces over his birth weight.
Oh sorrow of sorrows.

My wrecked heart
how all of that vibrant life
came down
to this

The most dismal of all endings.
A harshness we cannot bear
Or escape.

New bodies.
New life.
A mother's
Only hope.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead... I Peter 1:3

Bits of Joey's ashes have been scattered into the waters off Maui,
From a parachute over the skies of Virginia Beach,
From another parachute over the Rose Bowl,
Off a cliff into the Grand Canyon,
Planted under a tree in JoAnne's backyard,
Sprinkled into a stream in Denali, Alaska,
Scattered in the waters off Venice, Italy,
Slipped into the Trevi Fountain in Rome,
And sprinkled on the railway tracks in London.

We want a bit of him in every place he loved.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Light Bulb Moment

1. God can be trusted.
2. Even when I can't see Him.
3. Even when things are bad.
4. He is good.

5. His love never fails.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Last Month

I haven't written on my blog for a month. There has just been too much happening.  All of it has been high impact on my heart, so I simply had to live it first, and write about it later. August was the month of earth, wind, and fire. We started our month with the shock of 21 Navy SEALs dying in a helicopter crash--all friends of my children. Then Joey's birthday arrived, and we dealt with the sorrows that accompany his anniversary dates. Then we all had to say a teary goodbye to my grandson as he left for Michigan to play ice hockey this year. And as if that wasn't enough, we had an earthquake, and three days later the hurricane hit. Earth, wind and fire.

This was the third birthday since Joey went to Heaven. It's always difficult, and time doesn't make it easier. But we had some precious visitors and that smoothed the way for us. Joey's best friend, Kevin, showed up with his family and his brother, Ryan. Rachel came too. Here Kevin is paddling around with beautiful little Josie in the pond. 

She couldn't decide if she liked it or not, but once they got out, she happily climbed in the boat on the grass.

She played ukulele with Papa Joe, and was a constant source of entertainment and laughter.

Here is Rachel,   with Kevin's wife, Molly, and our dear friend Crystal, and Jaime.  We honored Joey's birthday with a concert and picnic at the amphitheatre. It was the 80's bands, Journey and Foreigner. Somehow strangely suitable for these kids that grew up in the 80's.

Here we made beignets, french donuts,  on Saturday morning. Drew brought us the mix from the world famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

Yum! They were absolutely scrumptious. I don't regret that I  ate a few too many.

It was hard to say goodbye to these precious friends, Joey's closest since childhood. We did it with promises to come together again, soon.

And a difficult goodbye to our sweet Josie, too, his darling namesake, and such sunshine in our lives.

After Kevin and Molly left, Rachel and Ryan went fishing one last time.

Then it was off to the airport with Rachel, and another departure photo of hers to add to our already large collection.

Goodbye Ryan. Thanks for flying 20 hours each way to be with us on this tender occasion.

Once they left, we went back to the continuing grief of caring for the newly bereaved Navy families in our community. This is one back seat full of gift baskets of donations we took to two of the widows. Our whole community has poured out love and practical care on these families.

This was a moment of comic relief, as we were preparing to say goodbye to our Chase. He and Aidan decorated their eyes with quarters. Why? Just cuz they could.

A farewell family shot, with sister, mother, and son.

The truck was loaded with everything he would need for the year, and he and his mom drove the 18 hours to get to Upper Peninsula, MI. Not easy for his mom...not at all...but a joy to support her son with his dreams.

While they were doing that, we were preparing for a hurricane. We filled our barn full with everything that could fly once the hurricane hit town. It was packed.

We also sandbagged the house in preparation for flooding.

This was the power of the winds down the street by the bay. Brandon, our helper, was "past perpendicular", as the weatherman liked to say!

Afterwards, a bit of clean up, but it could have been so much worse.

And several days of power outage, and some flooding, but again, no complaints. Nobody we knew died.

In the midst of the post-hurricane drama, our first ever visitors from Maui showed up and spent the night. Ben was one of our pastors in Maui,  and he came with beautiful Tiff and the darling twins. They brought us lots of love and comfort, and a reminder of the friends we left behind in Maui. I still can't believe they took the trouble to visit us so far away!! An unexpected joy in a long and difficult month.
And that's kind of how life is--the good and bad mixed together.You don't get one without the other. While the bad seems to overpower the good, it is in fact the very opposite. The good makes everything else bearable.

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Beautiful Boy

I remember the day I gave birth to this beautiful child. I didn't know I was having a boy, but having had our two darling girls, and pink everything and rhinestones and princess costumes,we were ready to walk on the wild side over snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Joey came home and snuggled immediately into the family circle. There was no 3rd child adjustment--he just slid in and sync'ed into the rhythm. And he was always that way, wherever he went. He seemed to slide into any new environment with ease--kindergarten, youth group, his new school in Maui, his college dorm. He made friends easily and knew how to make strangers laugh. He was easy to know and love.

 Here he is at one, with a bump on his forehead, sitting on his big boy flip-down chair. I loved that little jacket with the wooly collar. I guess that's why he's wearing it with his shorts! Loved the knees--so round and smooth, and the little folded hands. That was before his limbs got all long and gangly. He eventually grew into his ears, but the soft eyes and the smooth line of his smile never changed.

Sitting by a campfire, 27 years later, on the road someplace north,  maybe Alaska. He was never so happy as when he was sitting in the great outdoors, breathing it in. Trees, campfires, stars, beaches, waves, mountains, snow. All of it. Staring at it and thinking, absorbing. Thanks to Rachel's artist eye and quick camera, we have many of these treasured moments preserved.

His heart and soul were big enough for the sweeping beauty behind him. He fit there and celebrated it.
And because of this, I believe he is having a very similar experience in Paradise. Celebrating and exploring a universe of unbelievable sights.

He lived with zest and passion. He could make fun in a split second. He was highly verbal, especially for a boy, and always had a story to tell. He was a typical family baby--he loved to entertain, and he vitalized any gathering with his humor. I miss his wit and energy so much...and his wisdom and wry insight too.

He was an explorer. He was curious. He was an adventurer. I am so glad he got out and saw the world, and encouraged me to do the same. He was so vibrant and alive that it was contagious. He widened my view. He lead the way. He continues to do that from Heaven, as he has opened my eyes to th world to come.  I have come to an assurance that even though he is far away, he is all the more alive, and he is waiting with family and new friends for the day we join him.  

His other happy place: in a studio, or on a stage, with a guitar in his hands. He was a singer, a song writer, a musician at his core. This was what he was doing on the final night of his life, and at around 2 am he went to bed... and woke up in another world. Did he smile when he understood? Did two angels whisk him up into the stratosphere and beyond?  And that moment of being in the presence of God? --on his knees, face down, grateful and awestruck. What a rush of reality. We are waiting with faith and hope for that moment of reunion and our own inevitable merciful encounter with the Holy One.

For now, we are earthbound. We are trying to live despite our loss, and love those around us better than we ever have.

On Joey's last birthday before he died, the last we ever shared with him, we had a big poker night at his sister Jaime's house. Hours at the green felt table, joking, strategizing, bluffing his way through-- seriously intent on winning a pile of colored chips.  He was always competitive.  I can't remember now if he won, or if he came in second, but what mattered was this: we all won. It was a rich night of friendship, companionship,  laughter and love. It was good. A memory for the decades to come.

It's so important to make sweet memories with those you love. You never know when they will  have to sustain someone for the rest of their earthly lives.

Vintage Joey. Long limbs, t-shirt and jeans, sitting in the woods, breathing deeply in the cool, green-filled air. I picture him like this now. Peaceful, appreciative, thoughtful, content, alive to what stands before him, alive to a universe full of love and beauty, and waiting for us.

I have spent the past three years trying to understand the mystery of life, the whys of my own journey, and the purpose of Joey's short life. Through the tears and the sorrow, my heart has broken open. New things have been planted in that fertile ground. My faith has grown. I sometimes wondered if I would ever trust God again. But I do, and more than ever. We are a candle in the wind. He is eternal. He will explain it all someday and it will make sense. For now, Jesus loves me, and faith, hope and love abide.

Happy Birthday, my precious Joey, my beautiful son. Thank you for all you gave to all of us. Your mother loves you, loves knowing you are safe, misses you deeply, and longs for you with hope and a promise of the world to come.

We are gathered in a circle of love today, our family with Rachel and Kevin and Molly and Josie and Ryan, and remembering beautiful you.

John 14:1-3
 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.