missing Curly Grandad: doing grief together

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Some days it can feel like it has been a lifetime since my Dad died suddenly, other days it could have been yesterday. Grief is a funny thing.

My children have experienced close relatives dying – perhaps more than I thought they might when they were young. B & A were little when Dad died, and almost straight afterwards my Grandad – Dad’s Dad – also died. Before that we had also experienced the loss of other loved members of our extended family.

There is no instruction manual for grief. It is a complex bundle of emotions; sadness, emptiness, anger, confusion, numbness, fear, love, acceptance, hope, thankfulness… and of course family don’t experience these emotions in sync with each other, there is no ‘order’ to feel them in. It can hit in waves, it can leave you feeling guilty on days which feel ‘normal’. It is difficult to navigate for yourself, and difficult to walk alongside others. As a Mum all I could do was walk gently with determination, loving my husband and children as we each waded through different reactions and emotions. Praying for wisdom and strength to face it together, and to share our hope in Jesus with B & A.

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I am certain it was important that we were open with our children about their Curly Grandad (he was the Grandad with curly hair of course), ready to talk about what we all missed without him there. I think it is also important to be open to sharing how we have felt at different times or at different occasions – not always the easiest for super-introvert-me. But I am convinced that talking together openly has been important in walking through this together.

..’children can empathise with and show compassion for peers that have been bereaved. Children aged between five and ten often copy the coping mechanisms that they observe in bereaved adults and they may try to disguise their emotions in an attempt to protect the bereaved adult. The bereaved child can sometimes feel that they need permission to show their emotions and talk about their feelings.

The important thing is to let them do this. Avoid remarks such as, “Come on be a big brave girl for mummy” or “Big boys don’t cry”, such comments however well meant can make children feel they need to hide their feelings or that what they are feeling is wrong. This can cause complications as the bereaved child develops.’ (Cruse)

There were also a multitude of questions that my children had – and perhaps still do. Being as young as he was, A found it difficult to understand the finality of death and for a number of days was looking for Curly Grandad and asking where he was. Strangely T, even though she was born a number of years after Dad died, has gone through very similar stages with us and has also brought her questions about death and how it works. It’s not at all easy to answer questions that need factual detail when you yourself are struggling to come to terms with your loved one’s death. How I wish I could have found a reference book that had all the answers printed out for me at that time. How I wish we could have thought to talk about these topics at a time when we weren’t reeling!

 ..’it is important that the cause of death, the funeral and burial process and what happens to the deceased person’s body are explained in a factual and age appropriate manner to the bereaved child. Children will ask many questions and may want to know intricate details pertaining to the death and decomposition of the body. Again, it is vital that children have such details explained to them clearly so that they understand.’ (Cruse)

It was out of the experience of the first few weeks after Dad died that I began to write. As a Mum of my two very curious, needing detail children, I was looking for the right words, the right way to explain and open up the Bible with them. It was important to find ways to share our faith, our hope because of Jesus about life and death with them. So ‘My Curly Grandad’ was written, partly for them, partly an expression of my own grief and partly for Mums like me needing help finding words and a way in. In writing down their experiences and questions, and weaving Jesus’ good news throughout the story I pray that it spoke to them where they were. I pray now, as it is finally published, that it will speak into other family’s lives and hearts as they walk together in faith, love and grief.

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Snowdrop moments: unexpected breakthroughs

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Love, love, love snowdrops don’t you. Little nuggets of resilience and pioneering spirit. Humble simple beauty when it’s least expected and looked for, when everything is cold & hard, and just when it’s needed to lift the spirits and urge us forward. I carefully divided and replanted some clumps of bulbs last autumn, and am enjoying watching them fight their way into flower in their new homes around the garden. For me they are a reminder of the fact that God is in the business of making everything new – and that begins now, in the unexpected; against the odds; tenacious; fragile and simple yet miraculously powerful breakthroughs that God allows to spring up ready to be found and rejoiced in. They remind me to rejoice with God in the small significant ‘newnesses’ that happen in our family life.

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A sewing birthday party attended despite huge anxiety and thoroughly enjoyed. Huge sense of achievement. The photo shows fluffy the bear, designed and sewed by T alongside a great group of girls from her class.

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T had homework this week to cook a healthy tea for her family!

Andrew helped, I provided emotional support! And T cooked chicken pasta. Exhausting.

Hidden in this amazing event was an equally amazing moment as T sat with B & A and a friend at the kitchen table and all ate some – a new recipe tried by everyone – don’t try & tell me God doesn’t break into our everyday, that’s definitely miraculous.

 

This morning A allowed T to sit in his room, and they peacefully ate breakfast alongside each other. (I know!!!)

College work, a very new way of presenting and handing in, is being completed.

We have had a visit from a good friend, who helps us in ways she probably doesn’t realize. And, in the same few days another friend came round so that Andrew & I could go out for a meal. I know, sounds so ordinary yet never ever taken for granted.

img_20190122_102331_045I am pressing on with the editing of another book – the one that sparked all the others – about time I focused on it again and got it ready to share with you, think you’re going to love it.

Last week I also travelled (not far, but even so, out of my little comfort zone) to help deliver a disability (or diffability as I like to think of it) awareness training session for the diocese and had the chance to share a bit about ‘sense of space’, our accessible worship at church and our experience. And we juggled school pick ups successfully between us.

All of these small, significant, moments – snowdrop moments if you like – can be moments to recognize God is at work in our midst. He is drawing us forward, revealing his faithfulness, his humour, his joy in who he has created each of us to be; leading us into his life – his overflowing, never ending aliveness that he pours into our lives. Tough circumstances, worries, lack of sleep, diffability; none of it stops God in his busyness of recreating. His aliveness is powerful enough to break through the hardest, coldest places of our lives in ways unexpected; against the odds; tenacious; fragile yet powerful.

 

 

Sugar free January??? No chance

Everything on my news feeds at the moment is about clean eating, getting fit, ‘new year new you’, sugar free, dry January. I read them with my chocolate bar open next to me, and take them with a pinch of salt! There’s no chance, not for me this year! With sleep still a constant battle, and worries every which way I turn these types of resolutions are a battle I can’t take on (even if I wanted to – and actually I don’t, chocolate & I are good friends!). I haven’t made any resolutions at all really. I guess I’m in survival mode most of the time, taking each day (or on a bad day, each 5 mins) at a time.

If I did sit here for a moment (my first moment like this in a while, Christmas has been (mostly) wonderfully full on as usual) with time to reflect and dream what would my resolutions be I wonder?

There are many things I would like to improve in family life, or sort out in the home. Yes my diet (and over reliance on chocolate) does need an overhaul – despite Andrew’s best efforts to get me eating good, home cooked, balanced meals in the evenings. And my hair & skin need a fairy godmother! But are these the things I want to resolve to focus on this year? Probably not.

I would love to remember more than I forget that God’s presence is with me – all the time, in every minute of the day & night. I believe he’s with me; Emmanuel – God dwelling with us; yet somehow in the middle of family life’s complicated and stressful day to day it’s something that seems to slip my mind and I don’t want it to! I believe his presence is with me and that I don’t have to work hard, or shout loudly to conjure it up. It’s his promise to me as someone who trusts and loves him. He’s here, right here, closer to me than the breath I take in. His loving, under-girding, kind, powerful, gentle, wise, leading presence is here ready to help and save, comfort and restore.

Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you’ll find it’s grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he’ll answer. Just as the Master kept you alive during the hard times, he’ll keep your teacher alive and present among you. Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: “This is the right road. Walk down this road.” (Isaiah 30:21 The Message)

I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in! (Psalm 139:1-6 The Message)

“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. (John 14:26 The Message)

Maybe I’ll draw out these verses and put them in places I will see as I go about my everyday here in this house.

I need reminding, I’ve been far too good at forgetting, I am not alone.

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Looking at it it seems a rather simple resolution. But I have a feeling that if I were to succeed it could change pretty much everything else – my perspective, my responses, my feelings. So my prayer for myself for 2019 is simply this, ‘my Father God, open my eyes and heart up to your presence even more as we walk through each day of this new year together…’

 

He made his dwelling place among us

I have a fun task this afternoon – creating some palace scenery for King Herod in our Christmas Eve family service this year. True panto style I’m imagining going big, bold and dramatic… he was known as Herod the Great after all…. ‘Oh no he wasn’t!, Oh yes he was!’. We even have a panto camel waiting to join in this year, can’t wait.

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Looking back into history it’s hard to grasp just how vulnerable a baby was, even born into a palace with guards for safety; servants to keep fires going and wood stores full; money for blankets, clothes, and beds; well educated advisers to help; it must have been precarious for the newborn and the Mum. Harder still to imagine the dangers for a baby born outside a palace in an ordinary home, or less. Imagine the dangers of having a newborn at a time when the kings whims were law. Of course Herod the Great could order that all baby boys under the age of two be killed in and around Bethlehem so he could keep a tight hold on his power.

When I think of the vulnerability of how Jesus came to us it astounds me. That the Son of God should hold so loosely to his home in heaven and come to earth in this way (as a baby born into a situation with little political and material security and minimal life expectancy, on top of the innate vulnerable dependence of being a baby) is unbelievable, isn’t it? It fills me with wonder and astonishment that he should be born among us like this, just the same as us, just the same as the least of us – us at our most vulnerable.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (NIV Lk 2:6,7)

Christmas with all it’s excitement and busyness, with it’s celebrations, family gatherings, feasts and presents seems a far cry from the moment Mary gave birth to Jesus. We had a card this year with a poignant and provocative picture of the manger in the foreground of a merry-go-round scene, busy with people and noise. It brings home to me the seemingly stark contrast between Jesus’ birth and what Christmas today seems to look like.

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Yet perhaps emotionally it’s not dissimilar. Christmas seems to bring into sharp focus our feelings of insecurity. Will the money stretch, can we get the gifts we want/feel we need to get? Will family all get along when we meet up or will it feel fraught with tension? Have we got enough food in, have we got everything we need? Is my house big enough, good enough for visitors? Are my relationships secure and content? Am I safe? Am I alone? Am I seen? Am I understood? Do I belong? Why does life feel so hard when everyone else’s life looks like a party? Christmas can make us feel our vulnerability. We yearn for home – the home that’s perhaps in our imagination, where there is harmony, peace and love, where every little detail is perfect and safe and cosy. That’s certainly not our real experience. Even putting up our tree this year triggered a meltdown that took a good couple of hours to calm.

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Difficult family dynamics, hard to manage meal times and bed times still happen despite Christmas and feel worse because of it! Meltdowns and shutdowns don’t stop for the holidays, in fact they tend to increase in frequency because of the bombardment of sensory input, and lack of routine – not to mention the number of people coming and going and the demands of increased social interaction. The stresses of the logistics of family life and church life seem to be at their worst at these times as we juggle all the extras that we all throw in because it’s Christmas. The pressure we put on ourselves to make it all amazing and good enough for everyone presses our I’m-not-good-enough buttons. And we keenly feel the losses; loved ones who have died, traditions we always hoped for that are simply impossible for us, family moments we have imagined but have yet to realize.

Jesus came into the midst of all that. The uncertainty, the sadness and grief for what’s lost; the insecurities within us and around us; and into the midst of the hopes and longings. He came and made his dwelling among us – not at a respectable distance where he was less vulnerable but right there at the heart of real, everyday, ordinary human experience. He came into it to reach us, to meet us where we are, despite the dangers, despite taking on vulnerability because of love. He came as a baby to be one of us and died our death to break it’s power. His love was strong enough to come to us, strong enough to free us, strong enough to gather us into his family through the new life he offers. The story of the baby born, fully God fully human, God making his dwelling place in the midst of our everyday is a story of hope. He entered into the insecurity and vulnerability of our existence to find us and love us all the way back home to him.

He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (MSG Col 1:19)

In all the moments of insecurity, worry, stress, and difficulty this Christmas the story invites me to see again the truth that Jesus gets it, he understands it; he faced it too so he could have the chance to whisper ‘I love you, you are so precious to me’. (Even when everything is a muddle;when children don’t appear to listen when you read the stories about me; when people get along – and when personal space gets invaded, again; when you stay in with one child who doesn’t want to be out in the snow, and when you’re dealing with the over cold children who did go out to play; when there’s a meltdown; when you worry about the child hiding in their room; when the food’s just not right…. I love you, you are so precious to me.)

Myth busting the Nativity

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There are so many traditions and embellishments that over the years we have added to the Biblical account. Many are lovely, they can help us imagine the scene, some draw us in and bring it to life. Some however can give us the wrong idea about the story altogether. It’s really useful for us to have clarity about what’s there in the Bible, what we know and to separate out the add ons – not necessarily to ‘banish’ them but to know them as extras.

My girls need that clarity. It’s hard to have to unlearn something later and have to build trust again with the story itself, and the people who told it. Far better to be clear from the beginning (great with hindsight I know!).

Little Donkey is unfortunately never mentioned in the Biblical accounts. It’s true that we know with some certainty that having a donkey with you when you traveled at that time, in that place was common – if you were well off enough to have one. But the donkey would probably have been used to carry things not people routinely. So yes, it is lovely to imagine Mary having the assistance of a donkey for the really long journey on foot to Bethlehem whilst heavily pregnant – but we are having an educated guess. We don’t know for certain they had one with them.

Three Kings are a neatening up of the story. The Bible describes simply ‘some wise men from the East’. We have made the logical step of assuming they had wealth and social standing to be able to abandon what they were doing and set out on the long journey of discovery, and because of the expensive presents they brought. We’ve also neatly assumed three when writing carols and nativity plays – easy, one for each present. But it could have been a group all coming together to bring the three presents. They could have had an entourage of servants with them, there could have just been two out on an adventure together… we’re simply not told.

Stable round the back of the Inn Now this is a tricky one. Almost all Christmas cards show the nativity scene in a wooden stable that we in the west would recognize. It’s usually either at a small distance from the town or like a lean to against the Inn. Also I think we have translated the word ‘Inn’ looking at the story through western eyes, imagining perhaps an old fashioned public house taking in weary travelers with rooms for hire upstairs – and it’s full to bursting. In fact that kind of Inn was not the norm in the Middle East at that time. The culture had at it’s heart the expectation of hospitality. Every home would be ready to give it. Those who could afford to had a guest room set slightly apart from the busyness of their family life, maybe up on the flat roof, or perhaps just separated by a wall from the family living area which would most likely have been one room, bringing the precious animals in for the night to give warmth and security, and all sleeping within that family space with the animals. So it was probably not a wooden stable building that Mary and Joseph were offered for the night, but the chance to squeeze into someone’s family space – animals and all because all the guest rooms were already full. Not secluded, not quiet, not private as we perhaps have got used to picturing it. But yes, he was placed in the manger and yes he was born in with the animals that belonged to that household and I expect they were very glad of the warmth.

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Shepherds and wise men visit. We are used to telling the story all in one go – especially for children, and so we have grown accustomed to imagining the shepherds and wise men all arriving on that first night. But actually the Bible says that the wise men visited Jesus in Bethlehem much later, perhaps months later. We know Jesus was still young because Herod (otherwise known as Herod the Great – there were a few Herod’s in Biblical times) ordered all babies 2 years and under to be killed in the hope that he would remove this ‘new king’ the wise men had come to see but he was described as a ‘child with his mother’ when they saw him, not as a baby lying in a manger.

Another thing that can so easily get muddled is stars and angels – angels came to the shepherds and the star led the wise men.

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‘No crying he makes’ – no chance!!! How worrying would that have been for Mary. Babies need to cry, to take in that first big breath and to get fed when they are hungry and cleaned when they are dirty. It’s true Jesus was perfect, the Bible tells us he was without sin. But babies crying is not sinful it is necessary (Don’t ask me why we say ‘oh they were such a good baby’ when we mean they didn’t cry too much more than was convenient!! Maybe it harks back to the Victorian adage ‘children should be seen and not heard’). Yes, Mary would have been relieved to hear baby Jesus crying. And just to clarify he would have been a beautifully ordinary Bethlehem baby; olive skin, deep brown eyes, really dark hair – just like his Jewish, Middle Eastern Mum & Dad – he was really, truly human.