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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lent is nearly here

It hardly seems a minute since I managed to get Christmas decorations down and packed back away, and here we are, Lent begins next week!

So I’m taking the opportunity of blogging about such things as faith habits at home as my excuse to spend some time enjoying pinterest – should I say, researching – looking for the many great ideas out there that other families have tried.

(By the way I collect together the ideas I find about faith at home on my pinterest board)

Ideas that have caught my eye this year are:

How beautiful!!  It's a visual walk through the days of lent to Easter.

 

This visual walk through lent posted by ‘rhythm of the home’

I wondered if it could also be made together as a family throughout lent, taking turns to add a thumb print (or even a painty foot print) each day.

‘Catholic Icing’ have a printable lenten calendar that could be coloured in each day. A simple visual countdown is really helpful for breaking lent down into something that can be imagined, and the end can be ‘in sight’.

‘Flame Creative Kids’  has a whole list of wonderful, creative, prayer and thinking activities including this lovely stained glass window design.

 ‘GodVenture’ ‘s new book takes you through lent looking at the story of Lazarus with stickers, story, prayers.

‘Dunlap Love’ directs me to a way of doing a lenten tree – like a Jesse tree – and has some free printable ornaments to laminate and hang up each day as a Bible verse is read.

And also ‘Wee Little Miracles’ tells me how to go about making and using this beautiful spiral to the cross with cardboard, burlap and modelling clay. She is planning to take turns to place a stone into a ‘cup’ each day to mark the journey through lent.

 

 

I will also be posting weekly ideas, practical and crafty and with free printables inspired by my book ‘My Easter Egg Hunt’ which explores the meaning of Good Friday. They’ll be posted on my clearly nurturing publishing website.

There are so many lovely ideas for creating sacred space, and a pattern of prayer and Bible reading together through lent. Now the hard bit is deciding which we will try. I am imagining we will combine a reflective habit like one of these with some intentional blessing of others.

Maybe joining in with the 40 acts challenge or by collecting food for the local foodbank, or similar project adding some items every day as we pray (we have a project our church supports that works alongside asylum seekers and refugees, and there are others too who would welcome donations or things or of time).

Lent is a time to focus together with God, to reflect on our own faith and trust in him, and his beyond words grace poured over us. A time to look at the world around us again but with eyes heightened and alert, and with hearts stirred by prayer and renewed sense of purpose. (And my prayer is that in the middle of our unpredictable and rather complicated family life there will be a thread of all those hopes running through our lives together in the run up to celebrating Easter, because God is in our midst)

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making gifts together

We are just beginning to make our plans and preparations for filling shoeboxes with gifts for children which we collect as a church and send around the world with Operation Christmas child.

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homemade flower crayons

This year I am keen to get B, A & T involved more and have been wondering if there are any gift ideas that would be easy enough for us to make together to put in. There’s something prayerful about spending time making something to bless someone else, and those times we do manage it I find it inevitably changes, and blesses us too.

So here’s a list of ideas I’ve found:

  • T-shirt headbands (‘lovestitched’ have an easy to follow tutorial here)
  • T-shirt neckwarmers (needs sewing) (‘lilblueboo’ have a good tutorial here)
  • no sewing tutu skirt (Simply Real Mums have instructions here), the same method can quickly also make a flowy headband, or wrist band.
  • braided bead bracelets (see beadaholic’s video tutorial here)
  • no sewing fleecy pom pom hat (great instructions here from Creative Jewish Mum)
  • homemade shaped crayons (valentine ones on Mumdot here) These can be any shape you have a silicone mold for of course.
  • dolly peg fairies/dolls – sharpies, lace, tulle, felt, wool and imagination! A quick google for ideas revealed lots and lots to be inspired by.
  • wooden car tracks (BuggyandBuddy share their instructions here for wooden track) I was wondering if the same concept could be done with felt pieces, which would mean corner pieces could be made too.
  • lollipop stick puzzles (Mum Endeavors makes some here)
  • a world in a tin/suitcase – you can buy tiny tin suitcases, or use a little tin or large matchbox. Buy a little soft toy or little play figure that will fit in the tin or box, and then use felt, pretty papers and tape to decorate in the tin. Maybe the box will turn into a bed for the little doll, or maybe you have room in the tin for a whole house, or scene for the play figure.
  • baby tag blanket  – will need sewing (‘wholefully’ has a good tutorial here)
  • stacking game made of cotton reels (Handmade Charlotte has instructions and a printable design for beautiful animal mix n match, look here.)

Well, we’ve made a start at having a go at some of these. It’s a great way to stop and chat together, particularly about what the children who get the shoeboxes will be like, and what they will enjoy playing with or using, and where they might live.

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a rainbow tutu headband

 

when I grow up I’ll …

 

We are entering the era of big life choices for our older two; which subjects for GCSE?Then completing them and asking what’s next? What direction to move forward into? School career advice and the education system are asking what direction my children want to choose, and the pace of the asking feels fast and the pressure to decide feels enormous. And I find myself thinking back, and wondering if I really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up at their age. The power of hindsight of course means I know that no matter what our choices are at 14, 16 or 18 there are many more choices to come, and each of those will affect how we keep on moving through life.

I was chatting yesterday with A about whether or not these decisions were actually choices at all! He came to me wondering how they could be once we are disciples of the all knowing, all powerful God who has a plan for our lives.

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It’s a good question! So good of course that theologians have wrestled it for a long time – predestination and free will, they feel they ought to be contradictory yet there are verses in the Bible that suggest both, equally strongly! So what do we do, how do we ponder it? How do we work out a truth to live by as disciples, a truth that will direct our decisions?

As A & I chatted we thought about how things that seem contradictions to us might not be to all knowing God, they may be two perspectives on the same thing. I think we have that same thing when we think about love and justice for example. For us they are seen as opposites but for God they are always held together. The paradox of free will and God having a plan for our lives is impossible for us to understand, but they are held seamlessly together by God. So we talked about the truth that God is not restrained by time, he is all knowing, he sees our whole lives from before our beginning until their end yet somehow there is space within his knowledge of us and his holding of our lives; space to really live, breathe and choose – and choose him!

That thought, our freedom to choose God, led us on to chat about whether our career choice is top priority for God in the plans he has for us – is that what ‘good works’ ‘prepared in advance’ for us means? Is there one right answer about our career and everything else lets God down? and what if the career God has chosen for us isn’t one we’d enjoy, or choose for ourselves? What then? The Message writes the same verse this way:

“He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

We wondered together if actually this work God has for us, this plan of his has more to do with who we are, whether we are close to him and whether we are joining in with him in his Kingdom work than to do with which career. What if, we wondered, whatever we choose we could live out that life, do that work in a God-pleasing way? What if wherever we end up working we have the chance to do it in a way that shows those around us what God is like and how he loves?

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At the beginning of the verse we are described as God’s handiwork – and when God looks at what he’s made he sees it is good. We are made with incredible talents, amazing potential, each of us have gifts to use in our family life, community, and world. And God can shine as we do that. He shines when we are close to him being truly who he made us to be. So I’m not sure that it’s true that God’s plan for us inevitably involves work that we wouldn’t choose, or wouldn’t enjoy. Yes we will find challenge, and be drawn beyond the safety of our comfort zones but it’s true that those who delight in the Lord find he gives them the desires of their heart -of course it’s also equally true that when we are close to him, the desires of his heart are really catching, and quickly become our own!

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

it’s not fair

One of our chickens died on Palm Sunday. Milky Way was friendly, came to see us whenever we went out in the garden. She let us stroke her, and didn’t even mind being picked up. The other chickens don’t seem to be concerned at all, but we miss her, T especially.

‘why did she have to die Mummy?’ ‘why did her body stop working properly?’ ‘why did she die?’ ‘why couldn’t we make her better?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why did it have to be Milky Way, she’s the friendly one?’ ‘why did it happen?’ ‘it’s made me too sad’ ‘why can’t I stop crying?’ ‘why did she die now Mummy?’ ‘will I ever stop crying?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why couldn’t you stop it?’ ‘why did she die?’…

The sobbing and questions have been intense, and for the first couple of days nearly relentless. All I could do was hold her and reassure her that sadness and crying are one of the normal human ways of reacting when a person or a pet dies. We talked together about how happy and content she had been in the last few days, how she had been safe and had everything she needed; how she had just peacefully rested, and had died while she was asleep. I reassured her over and over that she wouldn’t cry forever, she would probably also remember good happy memories of her playing with Milky Way that would make her smile while she remembered them and that would be okay too.

‘Why did God think it was the right time for her to die?’ ‘why did God think she needed a really long rest?’ ‘did God forget that she was my friendly chicken?’

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I agreed: ‘it doesn’t feel fair does it, but I know God loves everything he’s made. He knows and loves Milky Way and because he loves her he will have done what she needed the most, what is best even if that doesn’t feel fair to us.’

This week we are travelling to my Mum’s for my Granny’s funeral. She died peacefully before Easter. I am fully expecting some of the same questions, though at the moment it is a very matter of fact response. But we didn’t see Great Granny B everyday, it may well be that at the times when we all get together as extended family it will hit us hard when she is not there too.

I have put together a social story about the funeral. If it’s useful please download here. I am going to cut each strip out, and put the story in order with T which will give us a chance to read the story and talk about each part. We can then glue it onto coloured paper, hole punch and tie with a ribbon and she can bring it with her. We have also found pictures of the church online and looked at where it is, and what it will look like. I have the basic order of service and know which songs we are singing and who is doing which parts. My Mum has asked the children to draw a picture of Great Granny B to bring with them, which has made us talk about lovely memories of time together with her. And of course we have planned what they will all feel comfortable wearing.

As usual I will have a ‘bag of tricks’ with me. Plenty of fiddle toys, calming sensory toys, and some small play sets (I have two boxes of little toys & small sized books that are really only played with when we are away from the house. It really helps that they are ‘new’ when I bring them out!) a cuddly, and one of the really familiar favourites. Snacks and drinks can come along too.

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The lovely Great Granny B 1921 – 2017