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A Bitter Cold Day in January

Kissing Noah Goodbye, Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS photographer.

It was sunny and gorgeous, like most days in Colorado, but it was January and a bitter cold front had brought in single digit temps overnight. Forecasters promised warmer days, but we wouldn’t see them for a while. The day had finally come for us to leave Children’s Hospital of Denver, a place our family had called home for an inordinate amount of time.

Months earlier when our son Noah was only 7 weeks old, we took him to an outpatient Neurology appointment, one that ended up turning into a 5.5 month hospital stay. Because we had been there so long, we accumulated some extra things, including gifts and well wishes from family, friends, and even strangers around the world.

My husband took a few bags out to the parking garage and the plan was for me to meet him out front after the car warmed up. An Arizona girl, I truly believe winter should be a destination, not a required season.

I bundled our son in a beautiful fisherman’s knit onesie and matching hat, and tiny soft blue Ugg’s sent from Australia, and then wrapped him in several blankets…my attempt to somehow stave off the cold. My husband is from South Dakota where it’s too cold to steal cars in the winter, so he came back up to the room to help with any loose items, leaving the car idling at the hospital entryway. The staff, nurses, and doctors on duty gave us final hugs as we made our way down the hall, grateful, yet wondering how we could finally be headed home.

I didn’t bother putting our then 7 month old son in his car seat as we headed across town. No. I held him tighter to my heart than a seatbelt ever could. We lived less than 5 miles from the hospital, and only had one stop before we got home…I knew nothing could hurt him.

We parked our car at the mortuary and made our way into the quiet lobby. A woman who knew we were coming met us there to receive Noah’s lifeless body. As we handed Noah over to her, my husband and I both collapsed in heaps on the ugly floral couches, grateful to the cushions for collecting tears and softening our guttural cries. We were going home, but Noah would not be coming with us.

To say I’m unconventional is an understatement. I’ve never been a fan of brands, labels, being boxed in, or being told what to do or how to do it. When our son was hospitalized for 5.5 months, I had to learn to live outside the box of traditional parenting. And when he died and the hospital told me his body would be put into the morgue and then transported to the crematorium by the mortuary’s staff, I said, “Ummm, no. My kids isn’t going to spend any time in a morgue. We’ll drop him off. Thanks.”

As you might imagine, no one had ever told the hospital such a thing. I mean, who walks out of a hospital with their dead person?

*This is a segment for a piece I’m submitting to a storytelling platform. I wanted to share it here with you first, because you’ve always been LOVE and SUPPORT like no others and putting this stuff out there gets scarier as I get closer to book proposal stage.

Taken for Granted: A Series on Grief

Never in a million years did I imagine that this season of “The Graveswolds”, aka, life without a home, traveling some with Jason’s job, and basing out of my Dad’s house or my Mother-in-law’s house, was about me, so much. Sure, some of it…like the part where I’d be freed up of some grown-up responsibilities like mortgage payments and tons of cleaning, but I’ll admit that in my “Hey, I’m in my 40’s, strong as an ox, learned a lot about life already-ness” it didn’t occur to me God had something for MY heart. I thought I had oh-so-much-to-offer others, like, taking care of widows and orphans, and whatnot.

Last weekend God showed me one of the orphans, and, you can take it or leave it, but one of those “orphans” was…me.

Gasp.

Wait. What?

Um, Lord, this all hurts deeply. I’m kind of a mess…and by “kind of” I mean…There is no such thing as a secret, therefore You know every thought, ache, pain, cry, every ounce of longing on any given day that drains my day-to-day life energy from living fully now…because I wasn’t ready and so I’m stuck. You two may have been ready, elated even at her arrival, but I wasn’t ready to live one single day on this earth without my mom in it.

And, so, last weekend, I sat at a table where four women gathered to break bread and drink wine, and deep into the heart of our conversation, each of us living here and now on earth without one or both parents, one looks into my soul and says to me, my face hot and tears uncontrollably streaming by then, “Did it ever occur to you that what you thought was a season of being available to help your widowed parents (houselessness and living in South Dakota) might be about healing to your grieving heart?”

Wait. What?

The ever-so-quickly approaching Mother’s Day has me pausing to take in long, hard breaths every day, every so often, more often than not. I’ve done “firsts”…had 8 1/2 years of them already, having lost Noah. People email me, call, text, take me to lunch and coffee and ask me questions about grieving and death quite often. I’m kind of seasoned in death-stuff, not afraid of it, clearly realistic in the whole part about none of us being able to avoid it…

…but apparently Mom’s die. And I wasn’t ready for one of those moms to be mine.

She was my spiritual compass. We spoke often, for sure daily, many days a few times here and there, just checking in with one another, sharing little things and big things, spiritual insights, life dreams and frustrations, prayer requests, asking questions, learning from one another…her sharing years of wisdom, discernment, and life experience, me helping her embrace what was, and was not, important to get up to speed on in this generation. We spoke candidly about her journey, yet we never spoke about dying…

News. Flash.

And so here I am, one week away from my first Mother’s Day without my Mom to call or make a beautiful meal for. I can hear my heart beating in my chest as I type, and each beat is marked with an aching of the tremendous and profound loss I feel. And I’m not the first woman on this earth to ever lose a mother, and I wasn’t the last.

It’s one month shy of one year and I haven’t even scratched the surface of my grief. In fact, I haven’t really even gone there. I pulled up my big girl panties, because crying doesn’t bring her back, and kept on truckin’ on, “to make her proud”…except for the part where my soul is crying out to bask in healing, my memories need space and time to come and go as they may, and the part where losing a son is different from losing a mother…not one better, easier, harder, quicker…different, and equally necessitating TIME to heal and TIME to breathe and TIME to wrestle and reflect and dig in and release and whatever else.

A few practical things I’m taking up on this grief journey to healing is I took Facebook off my phone. It’s still on my computer and a way I love to see what’s going on in other people’s lives, but it’s a distraction on my phone, and really, not a necessity on this journey. This blog has always been a sanctuary of healing for my heart, even when arrows fly from readers, as writing is an outlet for my soul. I will be here more often, sharing bits of the grief, because we talk about all sorts of other losses, but the loss of a parent is so accepted in society, so when one grieves longer or more deeply or in an ugly, painful way that others deem too lengthy or inappropriate, well, they move on. My Mom was a Baby Boomer. There are millions of women (and men) like me (and my sisters) who, if they have not yet, will be losing their parents in the next couple decades. Death is expected, but the pain which accompanies it is something we need to talk about with one another. I hope my processing can help your processing one day…

Another thing, I’m reading “Nobody’s Child: How Older Women Say Good-bye to Their Mothers” by Diane Sher Lutovich, “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom, “Final Gifts” by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, another one about pain and suffering, and doing a soul-care Bible study by Ortberg and Willard.

I’m also going to shell out some serious money to meet with a counselor who is supposed to work miracles…because some things in life are worth the investment, like hearts and souls…

Physically, I breathe. I’ve been spending time doing Yoga breathing. I breathe strategically when I swing kettlebells and do pull-ups at the gym. I breathe and use my legs to lift heavy landscaping rocks when the grief necessitates manual labor. I breathe when I sit lakeside in my Mother-in-love’s hammock, listening to the rhythmic waves lap up on the shore, pairs of ducks drifting by, listening to the effects of the wind through the pines.

There's nothing like nuggling lakeside in the hammock with my Little Lover...nothing.

There’s nothing like nuggling lakeside in the hammock with my Little Lover…nothing.

I breathe in and wonder what Heaven must be like. Then I exhale knowing it’s not yet my turn. I inhale God’s Spirit of healing and then exhale the burdens I so daftly thought were mine to bear and inhale the truth that His yoke is easy and His burden is light…His power is made known in my weakness…and I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

I wear her ring on my right hand, one she got in the early ’70’s, sterling with red coral…a Thunderbird made by Arizona local Navajo. An Arizona kid, a Phoenix or a Thunderbird, I think of the two interchangeably as I look at it each day, regardless, they both carry mythological symbolism of strength and life and renewal…one just has to rise out of the ashes in order to draw its strength.

So many memories include this ring on my Mom's hand.

So many memories include this ring on my Mom’s hand. It was made by Navajo artisans.

I’m working on that…

Either way, I know my strength and healing are found in the work Christ did for me at the Cross. It’s there I need to sit and face this loss, because trying to run from it has only caught up with me.

I wasn’t ready to lose her…which is why I wasn’t ready to grieve, either.

So, I step out, one foot in front of the other…and one day I will rise.