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Happy 84th Birthday Dad!

6 Feb Our Family Photo is complete!

It seems fitting that today, on the occasion of my Dad’s 84th birthday, that I revisit the amazing experience my family and I shared four years ago when we gathered together to mark Dad’s 80th birthday.  Time always marches on, and we tend to let important events slip into the recesses of memory … until something happens to trigger then.  I think that is why I have done so much writing in the past 12 years.  Once you write something down, you can let it take a back seat to every day life.  But, on those occasions when you want to bring back the memories, all you need do is look back on what was written and the feelings come rushing back. 

GIFT FOR GRANDPA

I was excited as I awoke early that Sunday morning. Today all of my plans and preparations would come full circle. In a short while we would begin to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday. Dad doesn’t like a lot of fuss, but he good-naturedly went along with all of our plans.

I had managed to get his birthday celebration on our local 10 pm news. I had slept right through it, but many people let Dad know that they had seen it. A picture of Dad was in today’s paper announcing his milestone birthday. And there were flowers on the altar at church …. all in honor of Dad.

Our family would gather at a restaurant later in the day to celebrate Dad and honor the role he plays in so many lives. I had hoped to secure a private room at the restaurant, but when I checked early in the week, nothing was available. I was disappointed, but I knew the party would still be the grand celebration I wanted it to be.

We arrived at the restaurant and followed the hostess to our table. Much to my surprise and amazement we had somehow managed to get our own private room after all. We were free to talk and laugh and carry on without disturbing anyone. Two of my favorite cousins – Dawn and Beth, were also joining us. They loved my Dad and were very close to him.

As we finished our meal with an extravagant chocolate dessert we all raised our glasses and toasted Dad. He smiled from ear to ear and got a little teary as he told us how proud he was of his family and how much he loved us.

Beth worked for a photographer and she busily snapped photos throughout our time at the restaurant. As we got ready to leave, we all stood proudly around Dad and took a family photo — something we had not done for a very long time.

Despite the happiness of the day, I couldn’t help but be sad. If only Elizabeth were here I thought to myself – then this day would be perfect. Our 20-year old Elizabeth, our first-born daughter and granddaughter, had died in a fire while attending college in 2003. Even though almost nine years had passed there would always be an empty chair at our family table that no one but Elizabeth could fill. And, it was especially difficult today when we were celebrating such a happy occasion.

The next day I received an email from Beth thanking me for inviting her, and she included some of the photos she had taken. She told me she was concerned when she downloaded the photos and brought the first one up, only to see a large white spot just above my head and on my husband’s arm.

Beth was dismayed and she wondered how this could have happened – would this spot ruin all of the pictures?

As she slowly viewed each picture, she was relieved to see that the white spot was found only on that first photo of our family. As Beth stared at the photo, suddenly it dawned on her – if Elizabeth had been here she would have been standing in the exact place where that white spot had been. Could it be she wondered?

I didn’t have to wonder — I knew. What a wonderful gift Elizabeth had given to her family, especially her Grandpa. I printed off the photo and excitedly asked my Dad to stop over, “I have one last gift for you I told him.”

He came into my kitchen and gently scolded me – “Kimmie, he said, I don’t need any more birthday presents! Everything you gave me yesterday was wonderful.” “Oh, I think you’ll want this one Dad, I said, – but you’d better sit down first.”

He sat down at the table with a quizzical look on his face. I laid Beth’s email in front of him, which said:

Here are 2 pictures from yesterday, I have to correct the lighting on some of the others and then will send more. Can you BELIEVE the first one? I’m not kidding when I tell you that I have NEVER had a white spot show up like that before. Dawn was with me when I downloaded them and we were looking through them. When I first saw it I said “darn it look at that spot on there”, totally expecting it to be on a whole bunch of them….then i go to the next one and it’s gone and it didn’t show up again. Dawn and I looked at each other in disbelief and said “Liz was there too!!”

I quietly laid the photo down and Dad stared at it for a few minutes and then was overcome with emotion, as he realized the significance of the white spot. We both shed tears of joy at the thought that our beloved Elizabeth had been with us yesterday on such a special day. Love never dies, and the bond we all share with those we love is never broken …. not even by death!

 

I Am So Grateful ….

1 Nov

Here is my latest piece on Gratitude,  written for THE EDGE magazine  ….

There are many things I am grateful for but what I want to focus on here is the gratitude that I have for my oldest daughter Elizabeth.  Our relationship has weathered so many emotional experiences for both of us – from total elation on the day of her birth, complete awe and exhilaration during her growing up years, to anxiousness and outright fear and complete despair during her teenage years, to absolute shock and total sadness at her sudden departure, and finally the learning and growth we have both experienced as we sought to establish and maintain our present relationship on both sides of the veil.  I often wonder which one of us has learned the most through our experiences of the last 29 years.

 

I have come to believe that Elizabeth and I made a soul contract before we both came into this lifetime.  We each agreed upon the scenario that was put before us, always with the understanding that we were each free to exercise our own free will to change the agreed upon learning scenarios that we had set up in Spirit.

 

What also brings me to my knees many times over is my deep gratitude and appreciation for the role that The Divine has played in our lives.  Spirit truly has been the third person behind the scenes in so many ways.  God opened the doors for both of us and presented us with many opportunities to learn, grow and love.  What more can one ask for on a return visit to this earth plane? It has always been our own choice as to whether we would accept the challenge put before us, or to decide that no, this is something I’m not willing to do.  And saying no is never right nor is it wrong– it is merely a different choice.

 

The times when I doubted myself, doubted Liz and even doubted the Divine were all learning experiences.  When I said, “Yes, I’m in” and I prepared in earnest and was able to complete the divine task given me, I was rewarded by a complete sense of love, validation and confirmation that what I see and feel is real.  The feeling that you have pleased The Divine is a feeling of exhilaration like no other; it is as close to pure joy as one can achieve on this earth …. I can scarcely comprehend how wonderful this feeling must be in Spirit.

 

Gratitude appears in many forms.  Once a task has been completed, I anxiously await my next assignment.  However, my next assignment may not present itself for some time.  Continuous communication through prayer and meditation with The Divine is reward in itself when it becomes a daily practice.  You no longer feel alone – but you are guided every minute of every day by a force more powerful than any other – Love.  When you learn to live in love, view the world and everyone in it in love, life becomes a joyous adventure.

 

To check out more from THE EDGE – click this link:  http://edgemagazine.net/2012/11/i-am-so-grateful-2/

The New Me is Someone I Never Expected!

5 Sep

My latest article written for THE EDGE  http://edgemagazine.net/2012/09/the-new-me-is-someone-i-never-expected/

In a few weeks  my 40th high school class reunion will take place.  Those who haven’t seen me in 40 years will be shocked and a bit surprised when they meet “the new me.”

In high school I was extremely shy and a complete introvert.  I felt awkward and didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere.  Of course, looking back now, I know that wasn’t true – but at that point in my young life it was definitely my perception.

Very early on I made some decisions that were in my book, non-negotiable.  Public speaking was at the very top of my list.  I can remember giving speeches in high school and my knees would shake and my hands would quiver, and I was so nervous I couldn’t even think straight.

Things have changed dramatically for me through the years.  I am more outgoing now and open to meeting new people and creating new experiences; which is what time and living life bring about.

There is a saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks … and sometimes I guess that is true.  But what I’ve come to realize is that if the old dog is willing … anything is possible.

Never in a million years could I ever have imagined that I would bury my 20-year old daughter.  It was not the right order of things, and it still isn’t.   It was non-negotiable … but it happened and suddenly I had to incorporate it into my life, make peace with it, and work through all of the painful emotions to find joy again and a life worth living.

Once I accepted the reality of my daughter’s death, it was easier for other things that I had once considered non-negotiable to be held up for change.   Because of the strong connection that I still shared with Elizabeth I had an extreme sense of gratitude to God and The Universe at large.  I was no longer a stiff board of do’s and do not’s.  My life became malleable and I was molded into something far greater than I could have ever imagined.  There is a saying that God can dream a dream bigger than you can ever dream for yourself.   I can see this so clearly in my life since that fateful day in September, 2003.

Public speaking has now become something that I do at every opportunity.  And my topic is always the same – the most painful experience of my life – the death of my daughter, my journey through it and coming out the other side and back to embracing and loving life again.

The first time I spoke I had practiced for months and questioned my sanity daily.  How can I possibly speak in front of strangers about the most painful time of my life?  In truth, I didn’t know.  All l knew was that my story was important and sharing it could be the catalyst for others to view their own life situations in a different way.  I also was confident that if I did everything I could to prepare, The Divine would step in to help me.

This certainly was the case.  In fact, when I finished that first talk, I felt the strongest sense of accomplishment I have ever felt … it was a complete sense of euphoria.  Spirit had asked me to step up and I had done so.  Not without some fear and trepidation — but with the knowing that I would receive help whenever I needed it.  The strong presence of my daughter permeates my very being whenever I share our story.  In a sense we have become a team and we work together from both sides of the veil to help others.  For me, there is no greater calling.

What will the next 40 years bring?  I don’t know, but I look forward to whatever adventures Spirit sends my way!  Life is JOYOUS!

Life Lessons

2 May

Please welcome guest blogger, Dave Roberts!

I don’t know if I can point to the one most important lesson that I have learned in my life, thus far. Since my daughter Jeannine died on 3/1/03 at the age of 18 of a rare and aggressive form of cancer, many teachings /lessons have made themselves known to me. All of these lessons/teachings have helped me progress from the raw pain of my early grief to adjusting to a world without the physical presence of my daughter. These teachings have redefined me and in the process allowed me to develop a relationship with Jeannine based on pure, unconditional love. I have also been blessed with a supportive group of family and friends who have supported the expression of my experience as I see fit. They don’t view it as good or bad and neither do I. One of the lessons that I have learned in my journey following Jeannine’s death is that labeling an experience prevents us from appreciating fully the lessons inherent in that experience. Labeling someone’s grief experience as good or bad does not allow us to fully appreciate and learn from the challenges that they have encountered along the way.
I have been an addiction professional for 27 years and have also observed the impact of diagnostic labels on how we view clients/patients that we encounter. If we buy into the stigmas associated with labeling, our resulting biases will never allow us to get a complete picture of how the client sees the world and the inherent strengths that they bring to therapy.

Here are some other lessons that I have learned in the years since Jeannine’s death

Doing what we perceive to be the right thing does not guarantee a life that is pain free: Before Jeannine’s illness and death, I always thought that if I worked hard and did the right thing, that God would protect me and my family from harm. However, as God and my experience as a bereaved parent has taught me there are no guarantees in life. Life isn’t about being fair and unfair; it is about learning to negotiate the many challenges that are presented along the way. If we can successfully negotiate these challenges, we develop resiliency and a renewed sense of purpose. We learn to get stronger at the broken places.

There is a difference between entitlement and gratitude: In the early part of my grief journey, I regularly questioned God as to why He chose me and my family to bear the burden of burying one of our family members at such a young age. After all, we had always done the right thing in our lives; because of that we were entitled not to bear this burden of grief. I soon discovered that there were many more parents whose children predeceased them. Connecting with them helped me learn gratitude for having them in my life and gratitude for the present moment.
There is spirit in everything and in everything there is spirit: Many parents that I know have been graced with signs from their children (as have I). Let the signs that you experience not only validate that our children are with us in a different from of energy, but allow you to see yourself as a truly spiritual being. If we can commit to this way of life, it allows us to see life and death differently. We can change our perspective on life and death, if we choose to do so.

All of these lessons have changed how I view the world. I am not the person I was before Jeannine’s death and frankly I don’t know if I could identify with that person. I have become a more loving, spiritual and centered individual as a result of the struggle with Jeannine’s death. Does it mean that I miss her physical presence any less or that I have achieved closure (a process that doesn’t apply to our journeys after the death of our children)? Absolutely not! My journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child will be life long. I know that I can revisit the emotional pain of Jeannine’s death at anytime. Today, I don’t have the same dread about re-experiencing it. I am, however, more conscious of it and try to discover what my pain is trying to teach me. We can learn from everything, if we are open to it.

David J. Roberts, LMSW, CASAC, became a bereaved parent after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He has been employed in the addictions field for 27 years and is also an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology-child life departments at Utica College, Utica, New York. Mr. Roberts also developed a topics course on Parental Bereavement issues, and teaches a Death, Dying and Bereavement course for Utica College. He is a volunteer for Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc, in New Hartford, New York and a member of the All Inclusive Care for Children Coalition.

Be sure to check out Dave’s website: http://bootsyandangel.blogspot.com/

A Wonderful Birthday Celebration

7 Feb

Elizabeth Helps Grandpa Celebrate His 80th Birthday!

Yesterday was my Dad’s 80th birthday.  I had so much fun planning a little party with our family on Sunday.  As time went on new ideas  to honor him popped up.  I put flowers on the altar at church  in his honor.  We put his picture in our local paper, and he even made the 10 pm news last Friday night!

We had a wonderful time on Sunday celebrating and honoring Dad.  Yesterday we all received a gift that we will all honor and cherish forever.  My cousins, Dawn and Beth (Elizabeth) and their husbands, joined us in the celebration.  Beth works for a photographer and loves to take photos.  All throughout the afternoon she was taking them.

Yesterday I received a note from her about one of the family pics.  There was a huge white spot right above my head and close to my husband Roger and my daughter Anna.  When Beth first noticed it she was alarmed that something had gone wrong with her camera and perhaps all the photos would be ruined.

Not the case – the white spot, otherwise known as an “orb” was only on one picture.

Excitedly I printed the photo out and called my Dad over.  He came into my kitchen, and I told him I had one final birthday gift for him but he’d better sit down first.  I explained what an orb was and the significance of it, and then laid the photo down in front of him.  He studied the photo from one side to the other and suddenly the realization hit him.  His precious first-born granddaughter, Elizabeth, had made her presence known on a very special day in his life.

We both shed tears of joy, and now we really do have a photo of the entire family!

The power of love cannot be broken — not even by death!

Life Conversations Radio

2 Dec

A few days ago I had the honor of sharing my story on Life Conversations Radio.  Click on the link below and check it out!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/life-conversations/2011/11/29/ask-life-coach-ade

Open to Hope Radio

24 Oct

 
      I will be a guest on Open to Hope Radio with Dr. Heidi Horsley and

      Dr. Gloria Horsley on Thursday, November 10th at 11:00 am CST!  

 

Eight

9 Sep

The number eight has been rolling around in my brain for the past few days.  I assumed it was because we will soon be marking the eighth anniversary of my daughter’s death.

However, it dawned on me yesterday that there was more to it than that.  I realized that September 12th would have been her 28th birthday and eight days after her birthday is the 20th – the day she died – eight years ago.

As all of those realities sank in, I began to see the number eight in my mind’s eye.  And I began to pay attention.

Notice that once you put your pen on paper you can make an eight in one fluid motion and you have two circles that intersect one on top of the other.  This is a metaphor for the relationship that Liz and I continue to share.

Our lives will always intersect.  She will always play a part in my life and I will always play a part in hers.  Each circle represents one of us.  The top circle represents Liz because she is now on a higher plain than I am.  Her energy vibrates at a much higher level than mine does.  She has moved on to a higher plain of existence or heaven, so she is the top circle – I continue my work here on earth so I represent the bottom circle – we are in different worlds – but yet still solidly connected.

Look again at the eight — it is like a path that can be followed.  You may start out at the top and work your way down (to earth) and then continue to go back up — Liz did that.  Or you can start at the top and continue down and follow the same road as long as you need to and then you switch lanes and move up — but whatever your path you always remain connected.

Whenever September rolls around I try to make sense of things — but most of the time there is no sense to be made — it just is.  Choices were made and consequences followed — for both of us.  But what gives me comfort and solace today is the gentle nudge that I believe Liz is giving me to remember that just like the number eight our lives will always be intersecting with each other.  And one day, when my job here is complete I will move to that top circle and we will truly be together – two balls of love-filled energy.

That knowing makes me smile and it is what will make the days of September just a little bit easier to bear.

Thank you Liz — once again — you never cease to amaze me!

Love,

Mom

PS – I just realized – today is the 9th – I should have paid more attention and made this post yesterday! Oh well.

 

Wake Me Up When September Ends?

12 Aug

In a few short days,  the month of September will be upon us.  As I type these words, I can physically feel my stomach flip-flopping and a knot beginning to form.  What’s wrong with September you ask?  Technically … nothing  … I do enjoy the last days of summer and the soon-to-be fall weather.

But my oldest daughter’s birthday and the day she died are both in the month of September.  September brings up so many memories … both the good and the painful.

On September 12th my Elizabeth would be 28 years old.  What would she be doing with her life, I so often wonder.  Where would she be living, what career would she have chosen?  Would she be married?  Would she have any children?  Would she have dealt with the demons that plagued her in the last years of her life?  These are all questions that will forever remain unanswered.

On September 20th we will mark the eighth anniversary of her death as well as the deaths of Amanda and Brian, two of her six roommates.  Three young lives gone in an instant as the result of a fire in their old wooden duplex just a few blocks from the University of Minnesota where they were all just beginning their adult lives.  So much promise … so many dreams and hopes gone in an instant.

So, what do I do?  I could continue to focus on what is no longer possible … and, trust me, I do that on occasion.  I think it’s necessary and I owe it to Liz.  To sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened not only is a disservice to my daughter, but it is also a disservice to me.  Revisiting the pain is necessary and part of my grieving process.  The key, however, is only to visit, not remain stuck in it.

What is also necessary is to focus on the twenty years I had with my daughter.  The times she made me laugh, made me smile, made me so mad I could hardly see straight — the good times as well as the bad.  I remember that Elizabeth’s life was so much more than the way that she died.  In the end, all I can do is smile because when it is all said and done the only thing that really matters is how much we love each other.  Love wins out over pain and heartache in the end.

There is a song by Green Day called, Wake Me Up When September Ends.  My husband has commented that he would like nothing better than to go to sleep on August 31st and wake up on October 1st.  And, even though I breathe a big sigh of relief when the calendar turns to October, I would never wish not to have September.

So in a few days I will focus on remembering.  I will honor her each and every day  – in some small ways and maybe even some big ways.  I will celebrate her and love her for what she is and will always be, my beloved first-born daughter.  Death can never change that – nor can it erase the love that we will always share.

“It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”  Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Hospice Effect

24 May

        I had been thinking about becoming a hospice volunteer for a while. It would come to me as a passing thought every now and then that I would consider for a bit and then put aside. Little did I know just how soon and how clearly my indecision would be reconciled.

Our local hospice house is on the outskirts of town on what used to be a farm place. There is a windmill and a few trees but farm fields mostly surround the house.   And, it looks like a home – not a place of death. I had tour a shortly before it opened, but had no other contact with it, other than to read the obituaries of many a local who had spent their last days and hours there.

I had become familiar with death in the most painful of ways. My oldest daughter, Elizabeth, died in 2003 from smoke inhalation from to a fire in her duplex just a few blocks from the University of Minnesota where she had just begun her sophomore year. It truly was  a “baptism by fire” and an experience I wouldn’t wish on the fiercest of enemies.

Almost eight years have passed since that fateful day, and I have come to accept that the physical presence of my beautiful daughter is gone forever. Her spirit, however, continues to burn bold and bright in my life, giving me the needed comfort and peace I so desperately sought in those early days, weeks and months.

My 82-year-old mother-in-law, Betty, had several health problems, but she managed them completely on her own, and she lived in a beautiful apartment just a few blocks from our home. She didn’t leave home much, but she was fiercely independent and had a love for family that could not be rivaled.

On April 2nd, Betty was busy in her kitchen when she made a sudden turn, lost her balance, and fell to the floor. Luckily, she had a lifeline around her neck. She pushed it and it wasn’t long before the authorities were there to help get her to the hospital.

Our local hospital determined that her hip had been badly broken, and it would be best to transfer her to Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic, just a short 30-miles away.

It was so nice to know that she was receiving the best care the medical world could offer. She underwent surgery to repair her shattered hip. She came through with flying colors and we all breathed a sigh of relief and began to focus on what we thought would come next – a rehabilitation center to get her back on her feet again and a return to her home.

It became a rocky road however. Betty’s ongoing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as congestive heart failure (CHF), was wrecking havoc with her hip rehabilitation. She would be well enough to move to the rehab center, only after a few days to suffer intense breathing issues and end up back in the hospital. This cycle went on for an entire month.

Finally, as her family, we had to accept that, despite the fact that her hip was healing nicely, her breathing issues were not. In fact, they were chronic, and they would not improve, we were told. In fact, they would only get worse.

Betty was completely exhausted and we could all see that she couldn’t fight much longer.

Our thought pattern completely changed, and we knew that the best thing for Betty was a move to hospice to be pain free and comfortable. At that point, all we wanted was rest and peace for Betty, the matriarch of our family — a woman who was widowed at the young age of 50 after the sudden, unexpected death of my father-in-law Richard in 1979 from a heart attack.

I wasn’t that close to my mother-in-law, even though I had been a part of her family for over 30 years. Yet, that day, something compelled me to focus solely on her and I found myself continually standing at her right shoulder, patting her head, bringing cool cloths to keep her comfortable, and feeding her an occasional bite of ice cream.

The atmosphere at the hospice house was home-like and welcoming. The nurses and staff were there not only for Betty’s needs, but for ours as well. Even though we would only be with them for a short 12 hours, they very quickly felt like family.

I remember toying with the thought that, at some point, I would whisper in Betty’s ear to please give Liz a hug for me when she saw her.

With Betty resting comfortably and at the urging of the nurses, everyone except one daughter went home for the night. You need your sleep the nurses told us, and we agreed — but not until we decided that one of us would stay with Betty at all times.

Just a few short hours after returning home, our phone rang with the news that Betty was gone, she had slipped away during the early morning hours with her daughter asleep by her side.

After taking a few deep breaths and letting the news sink in, I realized that I no longer had the opportunity to ask Betty to hug Liz. As soon as I had that thought, however, I was immediately immersed with an intense sense of love and peace and the knowing that my mother-in-law was now with my daughter and she was indeed giving her that hug that I had only thought about.

A few seconds later that thought was gone. But, it was immediately replaced with a complete and utter sense of gratitude that I knew was my mother-in-law’s way of thanking me for helping her in her final hours..

My brother-in-law related a few days later, that although he had been on vacation in Georgia when he got the news, his intense sadness was quickly replaced by an extreme sense of peace – a peace given to him by his mother that there was no need to be sad. She was in a better place, she was no longer suffering, and she was reuniting with those she loved.

It’s been a few weeks now and these experiences have had the chance to sink in. My answer about becoming a hospice volunteer has clearly been answered, and I have begun the process to make that happen. Some day soon, I hope to provide the same peace and love that we received to other families who will move their loved one to hospice just as we did.

I consider it a gift — a gift given to me by God and by Betty.

I have been blessed, and now, I can be a blessing to others.