A Cold & Broken Hallelujah

 

Do you ever have those days where there’s a song stuck in your head? And I literally mean days… the same song has been playing in my mind over and over since last Friday.

It’s a song I’m sure you’ve all heard, or at least a version of it anyway (because it’s been covered many times.)

This version in particular I have loved since 2004, the end of my freshman year of college at USU, when the first season of the iconic teenage drama show The OC ended its’ first season. The song , “Hallelujah” plays in the background in the season finale in a really dramatic and emotional ending (… seriously watch it if you haven’t…) recorded by Rufus Wainwright. Or it’s in the movie Shrek, which I’m positive all of you have seen.

It randomly came up on one of my playlists on Friday night, and it’s been stuck in my mind ever since. Especially one line in particular has haunted me ever since:

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

A Mother of a Weekend

I knew Mother’s Day was coming, because for the past 3 years I’ve been counting down the days until it arrived again with growing dread and mounting emotions.

It never gets easier to celebrate a day for mother’s without mine. Memories rise to the surface, good and bad, and drown me again in the familiar deep pool of sorrow.

It’s not that I don’t want to remember her or celebrate her; I love thinking of all the fun memories and how much time we had with her despite her cancer.

The hard part is when so many others get to go see their moms, or call them or FaceTime with them; I’m driving to the cemetery with flowers and a Diet Coke. I wish I could get just one last hug, or one last phone call. Boy would she just get a kick out of all the dating stories and mishaps I’ve had lately! And the advice she could give me, or support through these strange dark days of re-building my life after my divorce… I miss it all and wish I could have that with her.

But, she’s gone. And so after visit her grave, and spending some time with my sister and her kiddos, I went home to be once again alone with my emotions and thoughts.

And right on cue that familiar song of ‘Hallelujah’ played in my head again. Especially that one line.

And isn’t it funny how sometimes when something is happening in our life, a song will pop up that perfectly correlates with what we are thinking or feeling?

Praise

The word Hallelujah is a translated from a Hebrew word, which can be an exclamation meaning, “God be praised!”

But in our moments of deepest heart break, pain, and sorrow, is it often our first instinct to still praise God?

Honestly, sometimes its not. It’s those times that we tend to push the heavens away, feeling disconnected and alone, and wanting to blame whatever and whomever we can, especially our heavenly parent.

In our painful times we question everything; the who’s, the why’s, the how’s, and the what’s. It’s part of our nature to do so, and as I have been working through my own grief of losing my mom I have seen a different perspective of this side of it all.

Why, in the moments that we need God the most, do we tend to push Him away and lose our faith? Maybe because it’s easier in the moment, and helps put some sort of bandaid over the giant, gaping, bleeding wounds in our hearts.

The thing I’ve realized so far in my life, is that it’s always easier to trust the process during the sunny great times… but when it comes to trusting in the dark times, that’s when true faith is tested.

Cold & Broken

The night that we lost mom, after we had all driven home from the hospital and I was laying in my bed, feeling completely numb and outside of my own life, I remember fighting the inner thoughts of being angry about it.

Her trial that was placed in her life to have cancer, was a long and painful for her. She was such a warrior, fighting through excruciating pain and constant sickness, not to mention hours upon days spent in hospitals at doctors appointments and undergoing treatments.

It was hard for us too. And many times I felt angry that someone so wonderful, and someone that I loved beyond words, had to go through such agony.

That night, as the realness continued to sink it’s sharp blades deep into my splitting heart, I fought the urge to be angry with God, and instead went in the other direction. Feeling to tired to actually get out of my bed and kneel like I normally do when I pray, I closed my eyes and in my head I prayed:

“I’m sad, and my everything hurts, and I’m too tired to even make sense. Thank you for the time we had with her.”

And that was all that needed to be said. It was my own cold and broken hallelujah. I was incredibly sorrowful, and parts of me were angry and questioning about it all, yet I still reached out what I had left to God and gave him the smallest ounce of praise that I could muster. And it was just enough to bring me some much needed inner peace, that in in that moment seemed impossible to feel.

Faith in the Darkness

The beauty of it all, that I’ve come to discover over these 3 years since losing her, is that if we offer whatever we have to God (even if it feels like nothing) He will fill in the void with His grace. Circling back to my favorite metaphor of Kintsukiroi here, God’s grace will fill in the gaps that we can’t ourselves, to make us whole.

And it’s nice to know during those times we struggle in the darkness, that we are never alone.

I was reading some of my favorite quotes on Sunday from C.S. Lewis, and these few in particular struck harmonizing chords with what I was sorting through internally:

“Always pray to have eyes that see the best in people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith in God.” – C.S. Lewis

“Hard times, bad times, or tough times, I still have faith in God.” – C.S. Lewis

Honestly, I’ve never lost my faith. Sometimes it has definitely been tested to the extremes, but it’s never been lost.

I do have faith in the plan and the process for me. But as a human, an especially inquisitive one in particular, I have the tendency to sometimes question the why’s and the when’s on my path.

And it can start to escalate quickly: through missing my mom, onto being divorced and alone in my thirties, and even the heartache of not being a mom yet (and possibly never being one due to my infertility issues we discovered during my marriage.) You know, the whole “why me” pathetic thing that we all do.

But if you wallow in the negativity, you’ll eventually be drug out to deeper waters by the emotional undercurrents, and you’ll never be able to swim back to shore without drowning.

The funny thing is about these dark trials we go through, is how deceiving they can be. The darkness wants us to stay there, struggling for as long as possible, and to us we may think it is impossible to come out of it because we can’t see the light at the end of it in the distance. When really, if we just reach out we are already to the other side of it and we just haven’t realized it yet.

For example, when I was 7 my family went on a family vacation to The Outer Banks. We were there right before Hurricane Andrew decimated much of the Florida coastline, as well as further north towards the Carolinas, so the waves were larger than usual and the currents were stronger.

I remember playing in the waves with my sister, and I got knocked over and pulled under a wave. The current was strong and I struggled, and I remember panicking thinking I was going to drown. Then I reached my feet down and felt the sand there, and stood up…. in a few inches of water. I was already out of it, and safe.

Although I may never fully be out of the dark trial of losing my mom, I have faith and hope that I will be able to get through any others along the way.

One Last Hallelujah

As I have been playing this song on repeat the past few days, I looked up the original lyrics to it, which was written by Leonard Cohen. There were some secret verses he would sometimes perform at live shows that were not a part of the original score. This was one of them:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Sometimes that little Hallelujah, all that I can give in that moment, no matter how broken or lonely or cold it is, is all I can give of my faith.  And it’s enough. And these hardships and trials I will keep facing are just shaping me and molding me into the person I am meant to become. At the end of it all, I will be a better person for what I’ve gone through; the good and the bad!

And on days where I miss my mom (which is everyday) I’ll just keep holding onto everything I learned from her while she was here, and give thanks for the time that we did have. And I’ll let all of these trails and experiences help me become a woman, maybe even a mother one day, just like her.

“God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” – C.S. Lewis

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Photography: Amy Bischoff 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Grief

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The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and love, surrounded by family and friends. Even if you don’t necessarily affiliate yourself with a particular religion, it is still just that time of year when everyone feels that urge to spend time with loved ones, and celebrate the soon coming close of the past 12 months.

However, for anyone else out there that has lost a loved one, the holidays are also a time where we can feel a particular kind of sadness or heaviness.

Cue in Elvis’ classic song, Blue Christmas

And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling
You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas

Traditionally Jolly

Growing up, some of my favorite memories were around Christmas. It was a time our whole family was together, when my dad didn’t have to constantly be traveling for work, and we could just enjoy some quality time.

My mom made every holiday special and fun, she just had this amazing gift at creating joy and excitement even out of the smallest and most mundane things.

We had a lot of fun family traditions for the holidays, including family Black Friday shopping (before it’s become the insanely worldly and awful day that it is nowadays), opening one present on Christmas Eve together (which was always pajamas!), and constantly rocking some amazing Christmas tunes like Manheim Steamroller.

There are two traditions, however, that remain my favorites.

The first: Every year in Pennsylvania we would go out that Saturday after Thanksgiving, driving about an hour and a half away, to go cut down a Christmas tree. The tree farm was located out in farm country, and it was so beautiful. We would go with family friends and just make a fun day of it all.

The second: my mom started a fun traditional game when I was in high school, which she named The Candy Sleigh Races. Basically what you do, is you start with a sleigh base of a king-size candy bar of your choice. Some are better for aerodynamics, others are heavier and better for speed. Then you tape on the accessories including candy cane runners, a chocolate Santa rider, and whatever else you want to help your sled win. Using a tilted table as the race course, you do heats of 2 to eventually find your winner.

Ever since my mom passed away, we have continued to do the sleigh races together in her honor, re-naming it “Nana’s Annual Candy Sleigh Races”, and the winner of which takes home the trophy which is a decorated framed photo of her. I’m sure it makes her laugh watching us race in her honor every year, and I know each time she is there cheering each sleigh on.

The best part was always naming my sleighs. Some of my favorite names from the past years:

Beyonce-sleigh

Fast and the Festivus

See Ya (thanks to Andy and Alex in high school)

Sleigh All Day

Sleigh My Name

Ho Ho H-OK I Win

Waiting Under the Miss-You-Toe

When my mom passed away in February 2015, I remember one night feeling grateful that we had been able to spend just one more Christmas together as a family. What a wonderful blessing and tender mercy to have that with her one last time.

Now whenever the holidays creep up on me, so do those heavy feelings of grief. Despite everyone saying, “things will get easier”, they actually never do. I can go for weeks without feeling weighed down by the grief of missing my mom, and then suddenly something will trigger a memory and I will be pulled right back into those deep, drowning waters.

So I am constantly just waiting under the -miss-you-toe of the holiday season, desperately missing my mom and wishing I could have just one more Christmas with her.

Good Grief

I am actually grateful for the grief though. Maybe that’s a really weird thing to say, but hear me out.

When we miss someone, and grieve their absence in our lives, it means that we truly loved them and had such a deep connection with them that was meaningful and important. And constantly going through the cycle of grief helps us to remember them forever and live our lives everyday with a little piece of them always with us.

So there is such a thing as good grief after all. And every holiday season that rolls around I find myself relishing in those memories of my mom, no matter how many tears I’ll cry or how blue I may feel; because those moments are the ones that I’ll always cherish in my heart and I’m so grateful to always have her close to my heart.

Blue Christmas

Did any of you know that there is actually a real holiday called Blue Christmas? I had no idea until I was doing some research for this post.

Apparently every December, Blue Christmas is celebrated on the the longest night of the year; the winter solstice which falls on December 21.

On the night of Blue Christmas, it is a night to celebrate and mourn the loss of those we have loved. What a wonderful and reverent concept, to go spend some time reflecting and meditating on whatever loss it is you are grieving.

I for one, will definitely be finding my own way to celebrate Blue Christmas, whether I find a local church doing some sort of service that night, or I may make my own new tradition.

Whatever loss or heart ache you are grieving, especially during the holidays, just remember that you are never alone in your pain. I hope each of you can find some peace this month, and find that good kind of grief that can help heal your heart.

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