I purchased this copy of A Grief Observed in a used bookstore in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It was August 2014. My stepfather, Steve, had died May 17 that year. I was no stranger to death or grief, but losing my stepdad would hit closer and cut deeper than any grief I had known before. I immediately went into caregiver mode. My mom, newly widowed would need me like never before. In fact only once I knew someone would be with her while I was away in Colorado, I decided to make the trip.
The Colorado Rocky Mountains are a place I feel closest to God. I was a mess and had not even began to process my loss. I needed a respite and I needed God. I knew I needed to do something with all this pain , but I did not know where to begin. So when I saw that book on the shelf it was staring at me. “Buy me!” , it seemed to say. So I did. I started reading it, but did not get very far.
Little did I know when I bought this book I would also say farewell to my Grandma Shirley (Steve’s mom) September 4 and my Aunt Angie (my dad’s youngest sister) October 1. This began a long list of loss. It was like every two years the list would grow. I had already lost my cousin Shane, Pappa, Granny Hicks, Aunt Diana, Uncle Ronnie, Grandma Arlene, Grandpa Arvie, my niece Lydia, Grandpa Charley, my mother-in-law, Mary Lou and my father-in-law, Huck.
I would go on to lose my stepmom, Lana; close church family; Grandma Curtis; Uncle Lynn; Aunt Lou; my cousin, Rachel; Aunt Val; Uncle Elmer; a dear friend , Vince; my cousin, Brandon; and then my Daddy.
I picked the book up again after Lana died. I tried yet again to read it. It’s not even a long book. Reading that book was like taking a bitter elixir, you know once you choked it down you would feel better on the other side. However, it was too hard to get past the taste at the time.
The rawest grief and if I am honest the deepest yet has been losing Daddy. He passed July 4, 2021. It’s been 8 months. The grief journey has been peace-filled, but hard and intermittent. Initially there was a heavy fog. You could not think or see. I mean you could see, but nothing seemed clear or to make sense. You functioned on muscle memory and rote memory. There was no energy or ability to take on anything new. Getting through the absolute required duties were exhausting and all you could do. Afterwards you would lie down or sleep. Brushing your teeth felt like tremendous effort. It coincided with a Covid surge so I was extremely busy with every 8 hour shift I worked. It was truly only by God’s grace I got thru those days.
In time the fog lifted. The heaviness was still there, but less weighty and less constant. Instead there were intermittent twinges and sharp stings of pain. They were often brought on by the simplest memories. I recall crying in HEB because of pimento cheese. (Dad often had me make him pimento cheese sandwiches on the days I stayed with him after his stroke.) I couldn’t watch football, westerns or listen to Elvis. It just hurt too much. In fact it took some extra energy to watch the Astros in post season because it reminded me so much of him. I pushed through the pain of it and got through to the sweet side of doing it because if he were here he would be watching. I watched the Astros mostly as a tribute to Dad.
There is still a lot of grief to unpack. A few days ago I kept seeing an image of him in my head. He was younger, healthier, and smiling. I found that odd because Daddy was not one to smile much. He wasn’t mean; he just wasn’t a smiler. It was sweet to see those images. It was peaceful, but at the same time it comes with the sting of his absence. Now mind you, I grieve with hope. I am a believer and Daddy was too. He wanted to make sure the world knew that after he lost his precious wife, Lana. He made sure to start going to church. He was baptized. He knew there is a God and a Savior and an afterlife and he wanted to be sure that profess that. This hope is what keeps me going.
It’s been 8 months. The week of spring break my brothers and I were all together again for the first time since Daddy’s funeral. We had a great time just hanging out together. I like to think Daddy was smiling because of that. He would have loved that… us together as a family. That was important to him.
So here I am spring cleaning and this book is on my night stand because I had on many occasions intent to read it. Perhaps it is time. As I dive into Lewis’ grief, I know that he will have thoughts that resonate with me. He will also have some that do not, but there will be something in that common grief journey that will seep into the recesses of my soul that is still healing from the loss; I just know it. And perhaps whatever balm I receive, maybe, just maybe I may be inspired to write more so that I too can help other grieving souls like me.
You see grief is a journey no one wants to take but we all will. We will feel alone at times, but we are not alone. All the sojourners who have gone before us and continue on are a testament that we will be okay and persevere. The sorting through the emotions and the pain and the good memories and the sobering regrets that is the hard work of grief. But …much like cleaning out my cluttered, overcrowded closets and drawers …with each painful step a little progress is made. And while it won’t get and stay tidy forever , it will get to a place that is just tidy enough that life is doable with a sense of peace. What I am working on in the physical state of my home is symbolic of the emotional state of my soul. As I make each next step, not to perfect (that will only happen when I am with Jesus), but to better.
So spring cleaning, an unfinished C.S. Lewis book and grief …
Soon I will have to be brave and swallow the whole 94 pages of soul elixir prepared by one of my favorite authors who is now in the place of hope that helped him endure life’s toughest pain to swallow.
Today is my Uncle Steven Carl Hicks’ first heavenly birthday. He entered eternal rest Aug.28, 2021.
Today in church we sang these words from an opening song “Christ is risen from the dead We are one with Him again Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave Oh death! Where is your sting? Oh hell! Where is your victory?”
As I sang tears streamed down my face as I both grieved my Uncle’s death and rejoiced in the truth of this song. In these tears I had simultaneously much needed pent up grief released and yes also joy.
Later during the service we sang the hymn, “Come Thou Fount”
The tears constantly flowed as I sang the words of this hymn we sang at my Grandma Arlene’s memorial. You see it was at this very memorial Unc stood up before his family and proclaimed fervently the truth that is proclaimed in that hymn. He knew this truth. It transformed him. His life changed dramatically and he yearned for all of his family to have this same hope and joy.
So today it felt as if Uncle Stevie, and Grandma (Memaw) , my two faith giants were smiling from heaven while I sang out through tears and sometimes choked through this resounding truth:
“Jesus sought me when a stranger Wandering from the fold of God He to rescue me from danger Interposed His precious blood
Oh, that day when freed from sinning I shall see Thy lovely face Clothed then in blood washed linen How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace
Come my Lord, no longer tarry Take my ransomed soul away Send Thine angels now to carry Me to realms of endless days
Oh, to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be Let Thy goodness like a fetter Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it Prone to leave the God I love Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it Seal it for Thy courts above Here’s my heart Oh take and seal it Seal it for Thy courts above”
And as if God through His tender, comforting Holy Spirit reached into the recesses of my grieving heart and said, “I know it hurts sweet Shelly and I am here.”
Lil Miss is the kid that has always had an extraordinary imagination and a believing spirit. If you messed up and the tooth fairy missed her run, she would always have a reason for it.
There are amazing stories about requests from Santa for things typically unobtainable that somehow managed to make it under the tree Christmas morn. She quit asking for gifts from Santa last year and there was never a discussion.
She knows well St. Nicholas’ story as even his feast day Dec 6 is alluded to in our Advent Story book. My husband being a historian has reminded us of St. Nicholas and his giving spirit to those in need and to children. If you are unaware of his history it will rekindle youthful joy to learn it as you will see how Santa came to operate the way he does.
This year we happen upon Christmas and not only had she and I both been feeling not well the past few days (nothing major) her grand gift for Christmas was something she had to be present to purchase and I took opportunity of a sale in November. It is her much desired and longed for electric guitar. So that given there is no pièce de résistance under the tree this morning for her to find. Knowing how she loves the mystery and magical and personally having the love language of gift giving I looked at my tree a little disappointed this morning.
Everyone is still sleeping and I did the usual move the stockings from the chimney to the tree set up. And then it happened! The Christmas Spirit kindled an idea that would keep that magic alive. The events had already taken place, the inspiration had already occured 2 weeks ago, but I just needed a quiet moment to discern it. Inspired by a story of a family who would leave a white envelope on the tree to tell one another what they did on the others behalf in the spirit of Christmas and inspired by jolly, old St Nick himself (whose desire was to mimic God in his gift giving)
I grabbed pen, paper and a bright red envelope. I wrote to my precious daughter and opened with a quote from St Nicholas himself.
The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic Gods giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.
St. Nicholas of Myra
I then told her how the magic of St. Nicholas does not die if we choose to let it live on. I explained the greatest joy is when we ourselves get to mimi Santa and thus mimicking God. I explained to her the situation we helped with and that we can continually help those persons by praying. I invited her next year to be an active participant and helping us choose to whom we shall extend the joy and magic of the Christmas spirit of giving.
Then I reaffirmed her God given gifts and a prayer she continues to develop and use those for His glory.
So when we all wake up and move towards the tree I am even more anxious to see how she will enjoy this years gift from St Nicholas and cannot wait to begin a new tradition that she can actively help bring the joy and magic of Christmas to others as we strive to imitate Christ, the most precious Christmas gift to us all!!! Happy Christmas!!! God bless us, every one!!!!
In an effort to achieve a momentary pause for respite in the midst of some serious tempests, I have found myself wading in mediocrity. I won’t deny that this weary go-getter found comfort in going with the flow. Too many hills had been charged and lacking enough effort to take on yet the slightest incline, I just stopped.
It was necessary at first, then it became comfortable. It was too easy to just stay there. Oh mind you there were the bare necessities accomplished such as daily work duties or simple physical hygiene. However anything extra just wasn’t happening.
I had become mediocre. I had neglected my housework, reading, writing, studying the word, and even my prayer life had become anemic. That was alarming because prayer for me has become almost as innate as breathing. I was spent and did not feel like a prayer warrior or warrior of any type.
The problem did not lie in my taking a break, coming up for air, or seeking some solitude or respite. The issue became that I decided to set some things down out of necessity and I was in no hurry to pick them back up again unless absolutely necessary.
Once I made it past the respite phase, there was that gnawing feeling that I needed to get back in the game. I would ignore it. It would become a little more evident and then I would find mind numbing distractions to drown it out. When it did resurface because it was accompanied by guilt, I was all too ready to slam the door in her face.
Time passes. Spiritual anemia led to an unsettled disquiet… then an almost comfortable numb. ( oh that is where that band gets that, mind you no mind altering substances were involved here). I coasted for a bit (ok a while).
Then one day I realize I am either indifferent or I find myself agitated by people, their needs, and their constant requests for help. ‘Who do they think I am, superman?’
Wait… who is that? I don’t recognize her at all. Startled by this out of character response, I realize I must snap out of it. I had downward spiraled into complacency, almost hard heartedness even. Mind you it all started as self defense.
Oh there’s the rub – self! I was trying to go it on my own again. I was operating in my own strength. No wonder I cratered, that never works. There was only one thing left to do…. run home !
This prodigal soul paces around in her book room confessing to her Heavenly Father how she has sinned in thought, word, and deed. “I have not loved You (God) with my whole heart. *sting of conviction as silent tears stream down my face* I have not loved my neighbors as myself. *more stinging in my chest and more tears* I humbly repent and am truly sorry and for the sake of thy Son, Jesus have mercy on me and forgive me. Lord I come to you not presuming, but assured. Trusting not myself but your word. I am not fit to eat even the crumbs from under your table, but You Lord are the God of our salvation and you share your bread with sinners…. Forgive me Lord a sinner who has slipped away from all that is good that you have for me to walk in. I shrank back in fatigue and fear. I tried to endure it in my own strength and I cannot and You never intended me to do so. “
The Good Father with open arms embraced me with peace. Welcomed me with robes , visited me through a sister in a Telemedicine visit. Allowed me an opportunity to pray with that sister as I was overwhelmed woth joy from our Divine appointment as the two of us ministered to one another thru a screen. Then even better I received a text and a phone call that my 6 year old niece had prayed and asked our Good Father to forgive her sins and welcome her into the kingdom as she trusted Jesus ss Lord and Savior!
My soul has been lukewarm for some time, but it was rekindled and awakened yesterday. It began with my own confession and was celebrated with a simple communion of saints and a celebration in heaven as a child of God has trusted her Lord and another child of God has run back home to the loving arms of a Good, Good Father.
Composed Saturday June 13 in my Dad’s hospital room as I sat at his bedside.
Everything fell to pieces when my eyes met yours in that hospital gown….
Joy Invincible, Switchfoot
My cousin died last week. Today we will have a memorial for him. I woke up a week ago to a phone call to learn of the tragic accident. He was only 36. He was deaf. The world was challenging for him. His parents did everything they could to help overcome the obstacles that is impairment caused. Most importantly he was and is given unconditional love.
Today we will celebrate Brandon’s life as we navigate the rough waters of grief.
I am writing in a hospital right now. My dad is the patient. He had a stroke yesterday. He was supposed to be riding with one of his sisters to his nephew’s memorial.
Dad had a spell last Friday. He is insulin dependent diabetic and thought it was related to that. His sister who lives out of state is in town visiting him. She felt it may have been a ministroke. Dad was not sure but he refused to be driven to hospital or to allow EMS to be called. He recovered the next day so he really thought it was his blood sugar. We know now that was not the case. His spell happened the same day of Brandon’s accident.
After work yesterday my brother and I decided to head to the beach with our children. His youngest had never been to the beach. It has been a long emotional week and we anticipated that today would be even more so. So we loaded up and took an impromptu trip to the beach. We decided taking the kids to do something fun would provide a much needed moment of joy. We hoped it would help renew us as we braced for the next day.
On the way to the beach another call came in notifying me that my dad had collapsed at home and had left side weakness. He was taken to ER. The events unfolding would reveal what I as Family Nurse Practitioner knew to be true , Dad indeed had a stroke. We were almost at the beach. Dad had his sister with him. We were trying to decide to continue or turn around. We drove on as there was much undetermined that would take time. It was late afternoon almost evening and we were not far from our destination.
The remainder of the trip would include calls and texts to siblings and other family members. We learned Dad would be transferred to the closest stroke center hospital and we were waiting on that. We also learned once he arrived, due to COVID, visiting hours would already have passed and despite the situation we could not see him until the following morning at 6 am. We approached the sea wall and let the kids unload. I looked out upon the ocean and cried out to the Maker of this vast expanse of sea. “Lord, help Daddy!” “Lord, help us!”
We had calls and texts back and forth. I had to tell my husband who was home and did not join the trip because he had a work deadline. After discussing everything he said, ” I know it is hard, Shelly, but try to enjoy the beach.” I had been wanting to go to the beach for a while. My niece, Lindsay had never been and despite all the unfolding events her childlike joy and optimism could not be contained as she had her first experience with standing in the ocean waves holding her daddy’s hands. “EPIC!” she exclaimed. Yes indeed the ocean is epic because its maker is amazing.
My daughter found her epic moment by sitting on her towel and pulling out her guitar. As she listened to the ocean waves she strummed and sang. I realized she was okay. The nephews were with their dad. My niece was building her very first sand castle and her mom was nearby watching her and calling the nurse at the hospital. I walked into the ocean.
I let the waves crash into my body. All of the chaos, the fears, the pain, the grief, the worries, I stood there until the sound of the waves and feel of the wind and smell of the salt forced them to all to be muted. Anytime I visit the ocean the song Saltwater Heart by Switfchoot always plays in my mind. So in that moment of solitude standing in the ocean after my initial cry to God, my mind played……
When I’m on your shore again
I can feel the ocean
I can feel your open arms
That pure emotion
I’m finally free again
Like my own explosion
When I’m on your shore again
I can feel the ocean
– Saltwater Heart, Switchfoot
As I was standing there consumed by the waves and the song in my mental juke box my brother Louis came near. I shared with him I always think of that song anytime I am at the ocean. Louis smiled. He is the one that turned me on to Switchfoot’s music and I knew he “got it.” He moved deeper into the ocean with his eldest as I stood relatively alone again. I prayed and then I resigned myself to this summation, ‘Okay Abba, help my Daddy.’
We finished the day with some joyful moments of sand castles, wave jumping, listening to my daughter play guitar and just standing in the ocean and letting the waves wash over us. It was tranquil. It was joyful. It was a beautiful interlude that the Maker of this ocean and our souls knew we would need.
Now I look at my Daddy here in this hospital gown. Unable to use part of his body due to the stroke with much uncertain in the future. In a few moments I will drive to the funeral home where my brother, Louis who is a pastor and is officiating the service will try to offer words of comfort and peace as we memorialize my cousin, Brandon.
Hallelujah nevertheless, was the song the pain couldn’t destroy
Hallelujah nevertheless, You’re my joy invincible
Joy invincible, joy
Tears were in my eyes when the phone rings
If only life didn’t need us to be this brave
But we don’t live in the world of if only’s
Stretched tight in between our birth and our graves