Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Grief is like the ocean

 A few days ago, a dear friend of mine asked me to meet her at the cemetery. She was going to view her dearly departed husband's headstone for the first time since his death in August. I didn't really want to go because my own grief was so heavy. I'd lost my brother in July and hadn't been able to completely process the loss yet. Visiting the military cemetery where my sweet friend's husband was buried was going to be hard for several reasons. My parents were both buried there and my brother could have been buried there too since he'd served in the Army, but his wife had chosen to have him cremated. Without going into detail about that, I'll just say there is a lot of unresolved hurt in our family over the way his death was handled. Anyway, back to my friend's request. 

My husband and I drove 2 hours to get to the cemetery. It was important for us to be there to offer moral support to my friend, Janice. We didn't know it at the time, but she had asked some of her aunts, her brother, and sister in law to join her. I was thankful she wasn't going to be there alone, but when we got to her, the tears began to flow. 

I watched as she clung to Jack's headstone. As I went over to her, she told me she didn't want to leave, that she wanted to stay there forever. I did my best to console her and tell her that she'd see Jack again one day when she got to heaven, but I could tell the words weren't much comfort. 

As we all stood in front of Jack's gravesite, I did my best to remember his sweet smile and his hearty laugh. He was always so jovial and optimistic. I missed him terribly and wished he'd never been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Though he'd done everything the doctors had suggested to prolong his life, he didn't even make it a year past diagnosis. 

When Janice was ready, we left the cemetery and headed for a nearby barbecue joint for lunch. We all reminisced about Jack while there and as we were about to leave, Janice reached into her purse and pulled out a sandwich bag. I knew what it was without her telling me. She'd mentioned a special request to me at his funeral - she wanted me to make some sort of keepsake for her that would include clippings she'd taken from his beard his last week on Earth. Discreetly, she passed the bag to me and I nodded my head. She knew I'd do my best to make something meaningful and that I'd treat his beard with respect. I didn't want to take it but I did. I'd promised and I would keep my word. 

On the way home, I cried. Phil asked what was wrong and I told him. That bag of beard trimmings in my purse was a tangible reminder of my sweet friend. I didn't want to open the bag and touch his beard. I knew it would be too much. 

When we got home, I took the baggie out of my purse and put it in my craft room. I couldn't bear to look at it and I needed time to think of something to make for Janice. 

I wracked my brain trying to think of something I could make with his beard and the only thing I could think of was a keepsake pillow. I'd put the beard trimmings inside the pillow but somehow I'd have to make them accessible to Janice, too. 

Making the pillow was easy. I took some muslin and printed a photo of Jack onto it. It was one of Janice's favorite photos - one of Jack as Santa Claus. He used to work as Santa every year at Christmas for a department store in Florida. They requested him because of his "real" white beard and his happy spirit. After printing the photo of Jack on it, I used my Cricut machine to cut some iron on vinyl into a saying, "I'll hold you in my heart until I can hold you again in Heaven." I ironed that in place and then embroidered a heart in the center of the photo and the wording. I took the muslin and a pretty floral piece of fabric, some ball fringe trim, and made a pillow then stuffed it with poly-fiberfill. Next came the part I dreaded - incorporating the beard hair. I had to think of a way to do it that would keep the beard trimmings together and yet allow Janice to touch them whenever she wanted. I prayed about it and asked God what I could do. He gave me the idea of making a small heart and stuffing it with the beard hairs to place inside the pillow permanently. 

I made the heart out of 2 pieces of muslin and embroidered the edges with a blanket stitch of maroon embroidery thread. When it came time to stuff it with Jack's hair, I wept. I did not want to open the bag. I didn't not want to smell the sickness of cancer on his beard and I did not want to touch the hair. I know it will sound callous and unkind, but I'm being truthful. I'm embarrassed to admit it but I put on an N-95 mask and some nitrile gloves before removing the beard hair from the bag. 

Through the gloves I could feel the coarseness of Jack's beard and I couldn't contain my sadness. The tears came quickly and overwhelmed me, but somehow, I managed to push all of the hair into the small heart and sew it shut. 

Gently, I place the heart inside the pillow so Janice could see the outline of it through the muslin. I centered it directly under the embroidered heart I'd sewn between Jack's photo and the wording. When I was done, I showed the completed work to my husband and asked what he thought about it. He said he was sure she'd like it. 

In the next week or so, I'll meet up with Janice to give her the pillow. I pray it touches her heart. 

Grief is so hard to process. It comes in waves like the ocean. Sometimes the feelings are mild and gentle ebbing and flowing. Other times, they're rough and relentless pounding hard against the inside of your heart. 

Jack as Santa

I don't ever want to make a keepsake like that again. I know the custom of keeping a deceased loved one's hair has been around for a very long time, but to be the one to touch and hold it after the person has passed is so very difficult. 

Christmas will be coming soon and I've got a picture of Jack in his Santa suit on a table in my living room. I prefer to remember him doing something he loved and I can just bet he was a great encouragement to all of those dear little ones as they visited him at the mall. 

This year has been tragic in so many ways, but I can't dwell on all the negatives associated with it. I know God wants me to focus on the good things. Jack was a good friend and a jolly soul. Janice still needs my love and support and I'll do my best to give it to her. Friendship is a wonderful gift and one I'll always treasure, but sometimes, a broken heart reminds us of the brevity of life. We should never take a day for granted.

The keepsake pillow I made


Friday, November 19, 2021

I don't want to miss Jesus this Christmas

 

Last night, after hubby had gone to bed, I sat in the livingroom enjoying the quiet. Glancing up at the mantle, my eyes fell on the baby Jesus from my nativity scene. It was a modest nativity, handcarved, one I'd purchased from Hobby Lobby a few years back, but I loved its simplicity. 

The baby Jesus seemed to be calling to me so I got up and went over to the mantle. Staring into the face of that tiny, carved babe, I could hear a faint whisper, "Be careful not to miss Me this year." 

Miss Jesus? How could I possibly do that? Christmas was all about Jesus and I loved celebrating His birth, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was possible to miss Jesus. With all the craziness we've been experiencing this year, our world most certainly could miss Jesus and in a big way. I didn't want that to happen in my family. 

This year had already been very different from years past because of Covid. I'd lost several dear friends to the disease and my youngest daughter had been hit hard by the virus not once but twice. On top of that, I'd lost my brother to cancer and I'd had several medical scares throughout the year. It had been a challenging year but I was determined we were going to get through it. 

Before Thanksgiving, I put up my Christmas tree. That's a really big deal. I've never done that before. I've always waited until after the Thanksgiving evening meal or even pushed it to the following day, but this year, I felt an urgency in my soul. I wanted to soak up every single minute of Christmas and I wanted it to last as long as possible. In fact, I even considered leaving my tree up through the end of January, just so I could see and experience it a little longer. 

The older I get, the more I realize how fleeting time is and how I must hold tightly to the seconds and minutes I have left. This year, I'm praying I don't miss Jesus. I can't. He's my everything.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

It's beginning to look a little Grinchy around here!

One of my all time favorite childhood movies was Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." What a classic! It came out in 1966 and has remained a treasure for many, many years. 

The first year that animated movie appeared on TV, my brother, sister, and I sprawled out on our living room floor. In front of our large console TV, we'd lie as close to the screen as Mama would allow and watch intently as Cindy Lou Who sauntered around Whoville. 

My heart was filled with emotion as the gentle Who people gathered together in celebration and of course, I felt sorry for sweet little Max, the Grinch's pet dog, as he tried so hard to pull that big overloaded sleigh up and over the hill at the Grinch's command. Of course, we all loathed Mr. Grinch for the first half of the movie but grew to love him as he realized there was so much more to Christmas than all the trappings. As his itty bitty heart began to grow, so did our hope in the goodness of love. When the movie ended, we enjoyed a special "feel good"moment knowing that all was right in the world. That's the way it was in the 60s. Not so much now. 

This year has been a Grinchy year. In fact, if I had to choose a line from the movie, I'd say it's been a "Stink, Stank, Stunk" year. Not only have I lost several dear friends to Covid 19, I also lost my brother to cancer. My youngest daughter has endured multiple cases of the virus and still struggles today with post Covid fatigue and other symptoms. I've had more medical visits that I ever expected and was rushed to the emergency room three times! Medical bills are piling up, but we still have confidence that there's a silver lining somewhere. We pray next year will be better. 

Yes, it's been a Grinchy year and in honor of that, I began making Grinch ornaments about a month ago. They're scattered all over my kitchen counters in various stages of completion. Phil doesn't complain. He knows the entire house is just one huge craft room to me. Crafting helps keep me sane and provides a little extra income now and then, so he's okay with it. 

It would sure be nice if we could wake up on Christmas morning holding hands, circled around a huge tree singing in the language of the imaginary Whovillians- 

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Come this way!
Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Christmas Day.

Welcome, Welcome
Fah who rah-moose
Welcome, Welcome
Dah who dah-moose
Christmas day is in
our grasp
So long as we have
hands to clasp

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome, welcome
Christmas
Welcome, welcome
Christmas Day

Fah who for-aze!
Dah who dor-aze!
Welcome Christmas,
Come this way!

Then maybe, all of our hearts would grow two sizes that day and that nasty ol' Covid would go far away. 


Sweet dreams

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