Traditions

I’ve been gone.  I know you missed me. {despite your silence that would say otherwise.  no hard feelings.}

Every now and then I disappear because I can’t figure out how to write about what’s going on, but every now and then I just give myself permission to take care of what’s going on around me without worrying about sharing it, or enjoy some time without then writing.  That’s what this was- and I find that after I take a short break, I’m grateful to get back and have the chance to share.  Sometimes I write because I’m ‘supposed’ to, much like I do many things in life because I’m ‘supposed’ to.

Especially at Christmastime, when traditions are everything.

We have to decorate and shop and sing and watch movies and make cocoa and visit Santa and make lists and look at lights and make cookies and visit friends and send cards and host parties and volunteer and take photos and and and and…. Oh, and then there’s Ben’s birthday right in the middle and there’s a whole list of must do’s there too, to make sure his birthday isn’t overshadowed.

I LOVE all those things.  But when they become more about checking off a list and making sure we do all the things than about enjoying the things we do, we’ve put tradition over what we’re really meant to get from it.

And this year, once again, I started stressing about what I hadn’t yet checked off that list and when I would.  But then, one of my best friend’s brother died very unexpectedly and I only cared that week about what she was feeling.  And then I got knocked on my butt by a bad cold and days of migraine.  And then I realized that my husband was slowing down and that we were probably entering the pre-phase of a an episode of his chronic illness.  And when I asked friends about what they consider must do’s so I could alter my list, a good friend called bullsh!t and said that nothing was a must do.  She’s a genius.

So, I switched gears and am really trying to focus on simply enjoying what we are able to do.

It’s not as much as I’d like.  I’d always like to do more.

But yesterday, on my youngest son’s birthday as I worried that it hadn’t been magical enough a day, he reminded me again.

Me:  Ben, what do you want to do tonight for the last part of your birthday celebration?

Ben:  Watch Diego and play with my new toys. 

Me:  But I thought we’d go look at lights and get hot chocolate, or …. You really just want to stay home and play?

Ben:  Yep.

Me:  But did you have a happy birthday?

Ben:  Yes!

So we stayed home, ate ice cream and played.

Yes, in my ideal world my husband would be full of energy and able to fully participate, and every day would be full of lifetime worthy memories.

But maybe just enjoying what we do, whatever that is, and being together makes the best tradition.

Do you have a checklist and must do’s, or do you just enjoy what comes?  I’m not sure I’ll ever drop the list without being reminded, it’s my nature.  But I’m trying to learn.

 

minnie

one of the memories we did make- Ben kissing Minnie!

 

Stop the Stigma

Usually when someone passes away, there is an illness that we say they died from.  But in reality, the illness causes a host of problems, and that often leads to the death, not the original illness  Often, the body can simply fight no longer, and basic functions cease.  But we understand that cancer, or heart disease, or whatever the illness was, led to their death.  We don’t dwell on what the final step was.  We don’t see headlines that mention that someone died from fluid on the lungs, we see that they died from Cancer.  Because that was truly what caused their death.

But for those suffering from depression, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, etc., when the illness becomes so severe that the person dies, the headlines say that they committed suicide.  

Committed.  Which truly simply means “to do, perform, or perpetrate” but is used in this way almost exclusively for crimes.  The person gone did perform that act, but it is no crime.  It is painful for those left behind, but no crime was committed. 

If we’re to really understand mental illness, we’ll understand that as the cause of death.  Suicide was only the last step in an illness that progressed past the point of the help available.   Over 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death, the most common being depression.  

Since we believe that my brother took his life and died from depression, I’ve been asked many times if I’m angry with him.  While I know that can be a common feeling of those left behind, I think it would be less so if we could remove the stigma and help others understand the truth.  This wasn’t about me.  This wasn’t about him not loving our family enough.  This was about ending the pain.  In the religious world, the stigma has been especially strong, with a long history of teaching by many churches that hell was the punishment for suicide.  Thankfully, many churches have stopped teaching that, as they have come to better understand mental illness.  But many people still believe it.  Some have even said it to me.  So if you’re wondering, no.  I don’t think he was selfish, I think he was ill.  I’m angry that he was 26 years old and working full time and had no health care available because he worked for a very small business and made too little to afford private insurance but too much for subsidized care.  I’ve been angry at times by insensitive comments by those who think I should be angry.  I’m upset with myself for not recognizing the severity of the illness.  I’m saddened by it all.  But I’ve really never been angry with him. 

Just a few days ago, Rick Warren, minister and author of ‘The Purpose Driven Life’, lost his son to depression.   He appears to have been a loving and spiritual young man, who had an illness so severe, that no treatment or doctors had been able to prevent his death.  Like any parents with a sick child, his had sought help for him far and wide.  The best medicine, doctors, therapists and ministers were within their reach.  But healing was not.  Rick and Kay obviously understood that, and I’m thankful that through their pain, the stigma may be lifted and illness better understood by some.   

It is so difficult to add to the pain of loss with a shame that should never be there.  We need to start looking at suicide for what it really is- a final step of a terrible disease.  And when we can take the shame away from mental illness, more may be able to seek and receive treatment that saves them from that step, and instead brings them healing.

Praying today for those who have lost a loved one to mental illness, that they find comfort instead of scorn and hope and healing instead of shame. 

Shelter Safe

Our church has some amazingly talented people, especially in music.  Last week as this song was sung and the words flowed through my heart, I did stand in awe.  It is based on Psalms 46, and says:

You’ve been our home, You’ve been our shelter safe
For young and old.  For generations past.
We stand in awe, Of a God so great.
We stand in thanks, Of your faithfulness.
Oh Lord, you’ve been our dwelling place.

my aunt, JoAnn

I’ve heard it many times, but I needed the reminder that the things that I’m battling, the issues my family is dealing with and our friends are hurting over, that those are not new.  30 years ago, my grandmother had already seen heartbreak and loss greater than I’ve been able to imagine.  My God is the same God who watched over her and the same God she worships today in heaven.

He was shelter for my parents through losses that included my Mom’s sister and my Dad’s twin brother, both as teenagers. Even when they didn’t want the comfort or couldn’t see it.   

I hurt for friends who hurt today, I ache over my own tired and worn out spirit, and I can so easily get self focused on that.  But my pains and struggles are no greater than those before me, and I think to the end of my Grandmother’s life and the fact that after all of that, she still knew the true joy and peace that knowing Him brings.  God was her shelter and will be mine.

My own family legacy of losing those we love at a young age can sometimes grip my heart with fear for the future, and for what my boys’ will need shelter from.  But I read those words and know that God will protect them and be their home, just as he was for generations of our family.   

What are you facing?  I encourage you to look for comfort in the shelter of Him.