Grief, Healing, Newsletter, Trauma, Trauma recovery

April Newsletter, 2022

CURRENT REALITY

It’s April. My youngest son left to explore Europe. My oldest son winds his way toward home for work, doctors’ appointments, and visa renewal. Forrest and I passed the first round of applications to adopt a doodle dog. The house is up for sale. I’m interviewing for congregational ministry, wondering and worrying about finances, marketing the book, writing an article, and working on a second book. Oh! And it’s Easter. Still. For the next 40 plus days.

Yet I breathe in all the goodness this whirlwind of words embraces. Because without all the healing work we as a family did and continue to do the list of our lives would read very differently. This possible reality, of what could have been, always lives in my heart and mind. Not as pain but as truth laced with gratitude. Thankful I pushed us to do the work, the healing work, as an act of love. Healing giving us balm and leading us to live fully in love, purpose, and joy each hour of each night and day now and in all the days to come.

May you find a way to “do the work” as well.

~Jennifer

HAPPENINGS

In-Person

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 7:00 pm: In-person book talk at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa. Prairie Lights Bookstore will be there selling my book at the event. You may attend virtually or watch at a later date at Gloria Dei Live.

Saturday, June 4th at 5:30 pm: Preaching at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.

Sunday, June 5th at 9:30 am: Preaching at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.

July 14-17: Wild Goose Festival in Union Grove, North Carolina. Stay tuned for more information.

Podcasts

Tues. May 3 – Ep. 52: Grief + Healing Author Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez on Untrained Wisdom.

Thursday, June 16th, 2022 at 2:00 pm: Faith+Lead Book Hub event.

Articles

“Where Faith and Trauma Recovery Meet,” at Bearings Online.

“Small, simple self-care” in the January/February 2020 edition of Gather Magazine

In the News

Coming up! Ethical Perspectives on the News sponsored by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.

Gazette interview with Rob Cline.

Read why Chalice Press decided to publish A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance.

November 4, 2021:  A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA eNews.

Interviews

Q & A with Chalice Press President, Brad Lyons.

Book launch interview with Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life and Compassionate Christianity

This is Life and the Living of It: Steven D. Lee and I talk about faith and trauma recovery.

If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, preach, or lead a workshop, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak.

BONUS SECTION

Each month I share part of my process of writing A Time to Dance & A Time to Mourn. This month’s offering is a blog post from May 4, 2018 that did not find a home in my memoir.

Easter Understanding

Sitting in a church pew Easter Sunday. Seats at a premium this morning. Finding space third row from the Baptismal font.  On the right almost under the organ pipes.

Swarms surround us. Decked out in Spring’s cold glory. Small limbs buzzing from early morning chocolate bunnies. Syrupy smells poured over church-basement pancakes wafting up sanctuary stairwell.  Scents floating off potted lilies celebrating this day, distracting our noses.

Me, quietly book-ended by sons. Lanky height towering over shrinking self. Our hearts cradling family variants. Arriving on time for once. Not participating in today’s service. Missing one person in body, spirit, love. Forced imbalances creating new holiday traditions. Because of loss. Because of illness. Because human essence demands continual, dynamic change. Life ever flowing somewhere. Living in all directions. Forward, one of many routes. Options include straight back, down, and up above. Existence also following verticals and sub-verticals like feeds and streams.

During Lent this year understanding the movement of Lot’s wife. Looking back froze her future. Into crumbling salt. Comprehending this can happen to us. So far doesn’t. Ongoing therapy eradicates salt. Revisiting the past orients us into living. Discovering alternatives. Lot’s wife perhaps wanting choice too. Beginning with resisting orders. Ones requiring forced obligation in ancient womanhood. A constricted soul experiencing momentary freedom. Salt worth its weight. Me, not so interested in salt. Embracing all directions.

WHAT I’M READING

My latest? Homecoming by Thema Bryant, PhD. Also check out her podcast by the same name.

Homecoming by Thema Bryant, Ph.D.

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

Whether we like it or not, there is a business side to writing. Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my gratitude!

BUY MY BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press.  Or support your local, independent bookstore.

April Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Faith, Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery

Easter Early in Grief

Every Lent a simple wreath hangs on our door. It’s a peace sign woven from vines by a third world woman. Someone trying to better her life and therefore the lives of her family by fingers practicing hope.

This sign also hung on our door from the first August morning of our grief. I took down our summer garland of blue and yellow flowers and hung this one up instead. Attempting to mark us as a home experiencing a different time than everyone else’s. Wanting to wrap the wreath in black ribbon but could not find the energy for it. So the peace sign hung as is for months, actually until Thanksgiving or Advent, I don’t remember which. Longer however than I lasted in my all black widow’s wardrobe hanging heavy on my shoulders.

This morning checking the mailbox I looked at our wreath of peace, the same color as the dead foliage falling against our home. Realized I was done with long dreary Iowa springs, grief, and Lent. Decided to find our flowered Eastertide wreath waiting for its turn on the door. It’s blooms signaling something good, something looked forward to and now here. Thinking its flowers, bouncing off the budding daffodils along our front walk, create a cacophony of color celebrating the return of something deemed beautiful.

So days before Palm Sunday, the day marking the beginning of what comes next in the Christian story, I took down our peace wreath. Not because I have fully found peace, but maybe because I haven’t. Not yet. Not quite yet. Maybe I trust, because Tony taught me this and Aunt Linda keeps reminding me, that I can and will heal and will come to some sort of peace with what happened.  Knowing a one time trauma is not comparable to perpetuated trauma, not as complicated. More of a clean break in trauma speak, no emotional pins or surgery escalating matters even more. Yet still full of sorrow. Occasional panic attacks creeping in from out of nowhere except now I know how to appease this pain.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five.Repeat.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five. Repeat.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five. Repeat.

On and on in a circle of breath, maybe five minutes or so, until the agitated sensations running through my body pass away returning me to my now normal. Finding Easter in my breath. Life, resurrected from grief’s anguish. Again and again. Breath after breath. Blooming even in my muck.

A version of this piece was first posted on April 8, 2017.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery

Spread the News

Spiritual writer and griever, Paula D’Arcy*, says of A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance…

“[This] work is a profound and needed teaching about trauma recovery and perseverance, masterfully told.”

Here are 2 things you can do help people who need this book find this book:

  1. Write a review of my book on Amazon and Goodreads: Just a couple of sentences. The more reviews, the more readers find my work.

2. Subscribe to my blog and newsletter: Just press “Subscribe” on the upper right side of this page.

Thank you for caring for others. Thank you for being part of our collective healing. Thank you for building compassion in our shared world.

*Paula D’Arcy is a prolific and wise spiritual writer. Check out her books at http://www.redbirdfoundation.com/books.

Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery

Tomorrow’s Dawn

Five and a half years ago I was closing the door of my late husband’s mental health practice for the last time. Boxes of client files went into clinical professional storage. Furniture came home, was sold, or moved to my older son’s first apartment. Various mementos found their way to family members. Tony’s extensive professional library was given to a young colleague, a sexual abuse crisis center, the library, or was toted home in white, file boxes.

Other boxes came home as well. Full of information I was told to keep, didn’t really know what to do with but might need in the continual process of closing our beloved business. One box contained outlines of every professional presentation Tony ever created. Another, all the blank forms clients filled out before beginning therapy with him. Still another box held various clinical resources–charts on the brain, lists of emotions, pamphlets on various life changes, as well as a plain, slightly worn, vanilla file folder with Tony’s escalloped handwriting on its tab. “Grief,” it read.

I found this file early on, maybe in the initial days after his sudden and tragic death. Wading through his office while sharing my shock, trauma, and grief with our children. Even though they had enough of their own without witnessing mine. The file, tucked away on a low shelf, sat along with other folders with various clinically relevant markings. This file labeled in a way I thought odd however. As if my now deceased husband left us a final gift. A folder of resources on how to live  in anguishes’ aftermath. Along with some books on grief which turned out to be outdated and therefore unhelpful.

Of course, I couldn’t look at the folder. The mere sight of Tony’s handwriting sent me further down into the clenches of grief’s pit. Threw it in a pile covered by other files. Then like a rebellious child, found my own grief resources. But within a month or so the file sat on my work table. Its presence urging me to go through its contents. Finally getting my attention when I failed once again to begin my son’s college financial aid forms.  “Why not?”  I asked dumping the file’s slew of papers out on the desk.

Could only stare as eyes blurred over. Stomach clenched. Acid rose into throat. Stuffed the papers back into the file again.

A few years past. In that time I spent a portion of each week in therapy, lots of stolen moments reading about clinical trauma recovery, wrote a memoir, wrote another book manuscript, learned how to be a pastor, parented during really intense times, experienced profound loneliness, and tried recreating a life for myself while supporting my sons in doing the same. All the while the file sat there. Somewhere. Shuffled around to various holding positions in my office or bedroom. Getting lost again and again amidst ongoing life. 

But then I remembered the grief file. Right when I felt strong enough to view its wisdom in articles, sayings, outlines for continuing education sessions, grief groups, and liturgy for those suffering from HIV AIDS. Some of the articles, outdated. The sayings, designed to be hopeful, felt like diminishing platitudes. The liturgy, powerful still. Then an outline–Tony’s. A six week session created for a congregation in the months my father slowly died of cancer’s Sezary Syndrome. Entitled “Tomorrow’s Light” and covering nineteen pages.

As I skimmed, not able to attend to each word, I noted Tony’s predictable curiosity.

  • “What have you heard about grief?” 
  • “How do you define grief?” 
  • “What messages (verbal and nonverbal) were communicated to you about grief and loss?” 
  • “Who am I now?” 

Woven with other thoughts on grief.

  • “Grief is a period of time [when] life is out of balance.”  
  • “Each person experiences their pain at 100%.”
  • “YOU CANNOT RECOVER ALONE.” 

And words about the world’s weirdness regarding the humanness of grief.

  • “We live in a society that…teaches us how to acquire and hold on to things.” 
  • Suggests we “keep busy” rather than normalize the experience of grief.”
  • Tells us we should not “be angry with God.” 
  • Avoids witnessing others’ pain by using a “change the subject attitude.” 
  • Produces people “afraid of the expression of strong feelings [and who] will sometimes try to acknowledge the feelings quickly and then offer some intellectual or logical advice.” 

And then there it was. On page twelve. The last statement on the page. “Sudden, untimely or accidental death of a loved one can take as longs as 4 years to get through.” 

Wow. An answer to the question I asked Tony’s clinical supervisor maybe a week after he died. “How long does this shit last?” 

She replied, “Two years.” 

Hated her response. Resented it. Knew I needed to heal more quickly than that for my sons.

Recently the clinical supervisor and I were back in touch. When I reminded her of her answer in those early days of grief and post trauma, she admitted she lied. Didn’t think I could take the truth. “I really thought it would take 3 1/2 years.” 

She was right. In exquisite expertise, this healer knew a truth I could not hold until now. Her lie, a gift. But one given by one who intimately knows the landscape of anguish, sorrow, pain, and trauma. 

We did not know Tony would die, leave us, on August 13, 2016. His death was not something we prepared for together. Writing closing thoughts. Sharing enough “I love you’s” to last the rest of our living lives. Planning a funeral together. Making sure our financial life was in order. We had none of that. Only a will and a few insurance policies–more than most at our age.

Instead what Tony left us was a belief system. Belief in our human ability to heal. Belief in life after death for the living as well as the dead. Belief in each new dusk and dawn–that day follows night and night follows day and that tomorrow’s light needs the healing balm of the previous night’s dark. 

The folder, not a grief manual. Perhaps a symbol, even a gift of hope’s tangible existence. A reminder the world continues creating healers who assure us healing is possible, believe in our humanity, and offer accompaniment in our time of sorrow into healing, health, and wholeness. 

I never did read the file’s entire contents. It now lives in a box full of my journals and papers from the first two years after Tony died as part of the documentation of our human tragedy and truth. 

Faith, Grief, Newsletter, Prayer, Trauma recovery

March Newsletter, 2022

Lenten Litany

During this season of Lent let us pray,

Creating God, produce peace within each of us. Ask our inner peace to radiate out into the world.

Saving Jesus, provide lasting healing within each of us. Lead our healing into peace.

Advocating Spirit, reveal wounds within each of us needing mending. Accompany us toward healing ways.

Saving Jesus, provide lasting healing within each of us. Lead our healing into peace.

Creating God, produce peace within each of us. Ask our inner peace to radiate out into the world. Amen.

~Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez, March 4, 2022~

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

HUGE ASK: Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Authors need a minimum of 100 reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads to be effective. I have 96 more to go! Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my thanks!

BUY THE BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press.  Or support your local, independent bookstore.

BONUS SECTION

Creating a book begins as a solitary endeavor. But publishing a book requires a team–literary agent, copy editors, marketing professionals, a publisher, typesetters, book sellers, printers, and of course visual artists. I’m blessed that Chalice Press asked for my input every step of the way including ideas for the front cover. Here’s my initial rough sketch next to the finished cover. From my stick-figure sketch to the published front cover–WOW! Thank you, Ranka and 99designs!

My sketch
The Cover

RESOURCES IN GRIEF AND TRAUMA RECOVERY

Two months into widowhood, I giggled my way through this book: Widow to Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas for Rebuilding Your Life by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg.

Widow To Widow

HAPPENINGS

Planning for future in-person, hybrid, and online speaking engagements is underway for 2022. If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak. Here’s what’s on the calendar for March, April, and June: 

In-Person

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 7:00 pm: In-person book talk at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa. Prairie Lights Bookstore will be there selling my book before and after the event.

Podcasts

Tues. May 3 – Ep. 52: Grief + Healing Author Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez on Untrained Wisdom.

Thursday, June 16th, 2022 at 2:00 pm: Faith+Lead Book Hub event.

In the News

Gazette interview with Rob Cline.

Gather Magazine published my article, “Small, simple self-care” in their January/February 2022 edition. 

Read why Chalice Press decided to publish A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance.

November 4, 2021:  A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA eNews.

Interviews

Q & A with Chalice Press President, Brad Lyons.

Book launch interview with Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life and Compassionate Christianity

On this podcast episode of This is Life and the Living of It, Steven D. Lee and I talk about trauma recovery and faith.

March Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Faith, Grief, Healing, Newsletter, Trauma recovery

February Newsletter 2022

WAITING

This month finds me busy doing book interviews, planning for upcoming in-person events, and writing a couple of articles. But I am also listening to the stirrings of Spirit. Wondering when and where my first call in ordained ministry will be. In other words, I am waiting.

Waiting can be frustrating. I have days in which I am anxious about the future and angry at the process. These times remind me of when I waited for grief to lift just a bit so I could feel like myself again. And as in grief and trauma recovery, I find myself doing a lot of slow breathing in and even slower breathing out. For me breath work helps maintain a small sense of still being centered in my body.

Breathing also reminds me I have agency in my life. Agency means choices. Some seen, still more cloaked under my own or the world’s pain. Prayer often accompanies my intentional breathing. And as my angst lifts, I thank God for the help and gifts I am aware of and also the ones I have yet to discover. My prayers often end with an exhaled “amen.”

Waiting then is not stagnate. It is full of moving air often taken for granted as Spirit swirls with an imperceptible wind gaining momentum until fully revealed.

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

So this is a big one! Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Authors need a minimum of 100 reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads to be effective. Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my thanks!

BUY THE BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press. 

BONUS SECTION

In one of the many early drafts of A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance I included a poem as an epigraph before what is now the Prologue. Here’s the poem.

Remembering our beginning,

Misplaced in life’s ups and downs,

Rekindled in a shared glance,

Me alone holding our story,

Attending eternity’s truths,

Gifting me again with our love.

RESOURCES IN GRIEF AND TRAUMA RECOVERY

I love this video from the Ergos Institute of Somatic Education: Growing in Spirituality

A BOOK RECENTLY READ

I recently finished reading Elizabeth Stout’s Oh, William! The character, Lucy Barton, says toward the end of the book something resonating with me both as a writer and as a mother.

“But I was a writer. And that is a vocation…but I wanted those children more than I wanted my work. And I had them. But I needed my work as well…I would give it all up…all of it I would give up–in a heartbeat I would give it up–for a family that was together and children who knew they were dearly loved by both parents…”(219-220)

HAPPENINGS

Planning for future in-person, hybrid, and online speaking engagements is underway for 2022. If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak. Here’s what’s on the calendar so far: 

In-Person

Monday, February 21, 2022: I’m presenting at the event “Poems for a Dangerous Time” at the Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina.

Sunday, March 13, 2022: Join me at the Tucson Festival of Books! I’ll be at the Adult Fiction/Non-Fiction tent from 2:30 to 4:30. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 7:00 pm: In-person book talk at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa. No registration necessary.

In the News

Gather Magazine published my article, “Small, simple self-care” in their January/February 2022 edition. 

Read why Chalice Press decided to publish A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance.

November 4, 2021:  A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA eNews.

Interviews

Q & A with Chalice Press President, Brad Lyons.

Book launch interview with Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life and Compassionate Christianity

On this podcast episode of This is Life and the Living of It, Steven D. Lee and I talk about trauma recovery and faith.

February Newsletter, 2022. All rights reserved by the author.

Grief, Newsletter, Trauma recovery

JANUARY NEWSLETTER 2022

ON THE BOOKSHELF

WELCOME

Welcome to my inaugural newsletter. Why a newsletter? Well honestly the idea began at the advice of every marketing person in the publishing industry. Somehow newsletters boost book sales. Believe me, I’m not producing a newsletter because I want to contribute to the clutter in your inbox. So yes, I am a bit sceptical. But honestly I’m also enjoying what began as yet another task on my to do list! So here it is, my first newsletter as an author. If you continue reading you will find I’ve included background information pertaining to things I write about in the book. Some months you will find sections called “bonus reads” from the original manuscript that didn’t make the final cut. Also included are a few grief and trauma recovery resources  as well as upcoming events and publications. And that’s about it. Thank you for reading any of my writing and blessings on your healing journey.                                                                               

~~~Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez~~~

BOOK RELEASE EVENT

Please join me and Chalice Press President & Publisher, Brad Lyons, for a Q & A on Tuesday, January 18th at 7:00 PM CST. Click here to register. 

BUY THE BOOK

CP chalice only  My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press. 

THE VALUE OF YOUR REVIEW

Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Authors need a minimum of 100 reviews on Amazon to be effective. Please consider reviewing my book at my Amazon author’s page.

BACKSTORY: TEARS AND RAIN

Tears and Rain was a major theme in my experience of grief with trauma recovery. Tears because they streamed unbidden throughout each day and night. Rain because the universe around me mourned as well. Tears (and rain) brought healing to me and continue to bring healing and new life to our world.

Tears and Rain is also a song by James Blunt. His lyrics, filled with the poetry, portray trauma’s afterlife. Listen to the track below. Read the lyrics. 

TEARS AND RAIN LYRICS

How I wish I could surrender my soul
Shed the clothes that become my skin
See the liar that burns within my needing
How I wish I’d chosen darkness from cold
How I wish I had screamed out loud
Instead I’ve found no meaning. I guess it’s time I run far, far away, find comfort in pain
All pleasure’s the same, it just keeps me from trouble
Hides my true shape, like Dorian Gray
I’ve heard what they say, but I’m not here for trouble
It’s more than just words, it’s just tears and rain. How I wish I could walk through the doors of my mind
Hold memory close at hand
Help me understand the years
How I wish I could choose between Heaven and Hell
How I wish I would save my soul
I’m so cold from fear. I guess it’s time I run far, far away, find comfort in pain
All pleasure’s the same, it just keeps me from trouble
Hides my true shape, like Dorian Gray
I’ve heard what they say, but I’m not here for trouble
Far, far away, find comfort in pain
All pleasure’s the same, it just keeps me from trouble
It’s more than just words, it’s just tears and rain. Oh
Tears and rain
Oh
Tears and rain. Far, far away, find comfort in pain
All pleasure’s the same, it just keeps me from trouble
It’s more than just words
It’s just tears and rain
.

BONUS READS FROM MY WRITER’S RECYCLING BIN

This month’s bonus read, “A Widow’s Wreath,”  first appeared on my blog in February, 2017. Read about my adverse reaction to placing a wreath on Tony’s grave that first Christmas here.  

RESOURCES IN GRIEF AND TRAUMA RECOVERY

What’s Your Grief is one of the most comprehensive resources I’ve seen on grief.

Trauma Recovery at Compassionate Christianity is my curated site full of trauma recovery resources.

HAPPENINGS

Planning for future in-person, hybrid, and online speaking engagements is underway for 2022. If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak. Here’s what’s on the calendar so far: 

November 4, 2021:  A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA eNews.

Gather Magazine published my article, “Small, simple self-care” in their January/February 2022 edition. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 at 7:00 PM CST: Join me online for a Q & A with Chalice Press President, Brad Lyons. Click here to register.  

Monday, January 24, 2022: Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life and Compassionate Christianity interviews me. I’ll post a link in next month’s newsletter. 

Monday, February 21, 2022: I’m presenting at the event “Poems for a Dangerous Time” at the Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina.

Sunday, March 13, 2022: Join me at the Tucson Festival of Books! I’ll be at the Adult Fiction/Non-Fiction tent from 2:30 to 4:30. 

Grief, Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

To Everything There is a Season

Week after week of therapy sessions. Each hour supporting healing through writing. Page after page revealing in words both pain and joy, sorrow and solace. All the while surrounded by loving writing professionals delivering suggestions with more care than critique. Revision after revision after revision accumulating into hundreds of rewrites leading to now. Filling my heart with a cascade of emotions.

With gratitude to God and to all the healers in this splintered world of ours, I officially announce the birth of my book. A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance: A Love Story of Grief, Trauma, Healing & Faith is now available for preorder through Chalice Press at https://chalicepress.com/collections/coming-soon/products/a-time-to-mourn-a-time-to-dance.

Book Cover
Grief, Trauma, Trauma recovery

August Counting

Every year on this day when families return from vacation full of just made memories, begin readying for the school year ahead, every year at this time I count the dead. Because right about now, five years ago, we came home from vacation without one of us forever. And there was no getting ready for the start of school for any of us. There was only a funeral to plan, a death to make sense of, and life to figure out. So today I count and if possible name the dead ones. Those who in the past twelve months lost their lives in the Wisconsin River. Those who innocently were fishing, wading, or boating. Those who in trying to save the lives of others, lost their own in this treacherous river. This river with a killing history exacerbated by an ongoing sinful lack of warning signs and a state refusing to allow survivors to challenge existing laws.

Lynda Mueller, 58

Parker Kruse, 22

Unnamed man

James Dolphin, 62

And I remember Anthony D. Rodriguez who did not come home with us after the Wisconsin River took him on August 13, 2016.

Still.

Faith, Grief, Love

STUFF

Last week I dropped off another load of stuff. Made a donation of sorts to an organization assisting people in need. My stuff helps make their programs happen. I’ve been doing this kind off-loading a lot lately as I forage through item after item in our home looking to toss, keep, or give away.

Of course each item is infused with memories. As I throw out a broken Tonka truck I hear the traffic sounds my young sons once made years ago. As I load up a box with books I remember my beloved career in early care and education. As I sort through old picture frames I remember life as it once was and is no longer. Our stuff holds memories just as the walls of our homes and churches seem to do. As if these inanimate objects and structures infuse our lives with living breath. Memories however are not alive. Yet they are within us functioning as internal containers of the past, ones full of emotions. Some memories, wonderful and loving. Others reminding us of past tragedies, regrets, and unfulfilled dreams.

In December of 1995 I said goodbye to a room full of three, four, and five year old children and their parents and guardians. Most of these families were immigrants. Some from Palestine and more from Mexico. Many families were in Chicago illegally having fled war, hunger, and disease. Even the three year old children showed visible signs of where they came from: Large crusted scars from untreated pinworm, PTSD from witnessing violence, and visceral memories of being hungry. Saying goodbye to these children was painful. I loved them and they me.

Through tears during one last circle time I reached my hands and arms out wide as if holding them all. Then I gathered the air in bringing unseen molecules toward me. My hands resting on my heart as my words spoke my truth: “I will always be in your hearts and you will always be in mine.”

And I have. Held them in my heart for almost twenty-seven years. Their faces, laughs, smiles, and tears rest within me. Surrounded by circles of hope. Well wishes for them and our shared world as prayer for something greater than we can imagine.

My heart, your heart, all hearts expand, make room, welcome. So that when the mementos break, disintegrate, take up too much space, or our beloved church decides to change, combine, or close, then we have what lives on in our hearts, souls, and minds. And we can remember that’s where God lives as well. In us, wherever we go and whatever we do. Always finding new life when what lives in us meets what lives in others. Reminding us that it is not the stuff stored in our closets or the beloved physical places holding our lives. It’s the relationships we grow with God, ourselves, and others.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay