Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Things
Joslin Kayana Winkowitsch
Taught Us

by Jo Winkowitsch, Joslin’s mom 

Joslin, our daughter, was diagnosed with bone cancer 2 months after graduating from Sibley-Ocheyedan high school in 1997. She endured an above the knee amputation and 9 months of being terminal. But she enjoyed life and desired to make each day special. The following points are things I learned and observed as I watch her live and die. 
She died on Sept. 14, 1999.



 

BE HAPPY
Joslin lived each day of her life with joy and purpose.  It didn’t matter how sick she felt, where she was, or what limitations she faced, she generally found a way to smile and enjoy life, every single day. She journaled her “sad” away and tried to focus on finding joy so she could be happy.  

MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT YOU HAVE
Joslin rarely felt sorry for herself, or spent her time whining about things she could not change.
She could not walk or dance on her own, after her cancer, but watching others dance and run brought her joy rather than envy. When her body started to fail her in the end, she accepted it without much complaint as she took care of it the best she could. She looked for and found new ways to enjoy her life… looking for what she could change and trying to accept what she could not change.

APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE 
Joslin tried to find good, and to look on the bright side of things.  Instead of dwelling on what she had lost or didn't have, she tried to focus on what she had and what she could do to make life a joy for herself and those around her.  She tried to develop an “attitude of gratitude”.

REALLY LOVE PEOPLE
Joslin greatly appreciated and loved her friends and the important people in her life.  Love gave her joy, comfort, purpose and peace. What an example she was to me of how to love others and express that love in ways that mattered.  

BE HONEST AND TRUE TO YOURSELF
Joslin never left many wondering where she stood about most important things.  Her ways of communicating could be as subtle as a look in her eyes and an expressive face... or as dramatic as throwing a pillow. There was not much doubt, usually, about what she was thinking. The world’s pressures seldom led her to put on the masks so many of us feel pressure to put on to be accepted. She did things her way – (no compromising!), and those around her were usually blessed by her honest expressions and words.

BE AN ENCOURAGER, AND ASK FOR ENCOURAGEMENT.
Joslin liked to look for ways to encourage and build up those around her.
Joslin also told her friends what she needed, and gave them opportunities to become encouragers in those times she needed it. Encouraging others is a good way to keep from becoming self-focused. Joslin came to see that real friends take turns encouraging each other.

HAVE COURAGE
Although Joslin struggled with fear as a child… when she grew older fear wasn’t something she entertained very easily. It seemed a pointless waste of energy to her, one that got in the way of her enjoying life.   She faced every trial head on, often very calmly and patiently, given the situations she had to deal with ... always looking for the best way to make it through whatever trial she faced. 

LAUGH WHEN YOU CAN, CRY WHEN YOU MUST
Joslin had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh.  Some of the hardest times she experienced were lightened up when she made a funny face or said something that cut the tension. She didn't like to cry, but there were times, especially at the end of her life, when crying was all she could do, and she honored herself and her pain by letting the tears out. 

KEEP LOOKING FOR HOPE
Joslin never gave up, even when faced with horrific things.  People said that we, (her family), and her friends saw her through all of her struggles, but the reality is, I think, that she saw us through. Her perseverance and joy in living encouraged us and kept us going.  She tried to keep moving forward, no matter what obstacles came her way. I imagine she faced the end of every day, including her last ones, feeling like she had accomplished everything she wanted to do, for she tried to do the best she could with each day of her life...

LIVE WELL EVERY DAY
She never felt like she was wasting time – most things she did pleased her and she felt they had a purpose. She wrote letters, and made phone calls, and created craft items for her loved ones to have after she was gone.  She was determined to not let fear or cancer defeat her or change who she was. Even when her physical body was diminished by cancer, her true self - her spirit and soul – remained recognizable to the end. At the end, she simply went Home in her own fashion, (quickly and quietly), having lived her life fully and joyfully, as best she could. Along the way, she worked to accept herself and the changes in her life so that she could keep living well.  And live well she did, for 20 years, 7 months, and 22 days.


HAVE FAITH
She had an innocent, honest faith, one that questioned why things happened as they did, and yet acknowledged that God was with her and that everything would turn out all right, in the end.  Toward the last few weeks of her life, she looked forward to her life in heaven, knowing she would be able to walk and dance again, and to be free to really live again...  She had eyes to see beyond this earthly existence, and knew that there was more ahead.  Believing that Jesus would meet her as she stepped across the threshold into heaven was what made her death a bearable thought for her, and for us all…
Joslin taught us, in dying, that death is not such a scary thing, but only a change and a new beginning.  

*Faith makes life worth living, and if Joslin were here I believe she would tell you so.
None of us knows when our last day on earth will be here.  If you start each day with that in mind, you will have a better chance to live fully, enjoying the whole journey until you arrive Safely Home to heaven.

Friday, December 18, 2020

There Will Be No Services…

By Jo Winkowitsch December 2020

 

What do you think of when you read the title?

·        Have you lost family or friends this year? As I read obituaries, I see a common phrase… “there will be no services.” Traditional funerals have changed with elimination of hugs and face to face connections, being often replaced with either online services or no service at all. Have you experienced this in 2020? How have you dealt with your feelings of sadness and loss? I will be sharing some ideas later about how to cope with losses and grief.

·        Do you think of the many changes you have experienced at home or church or school or at work? Many churches, schools and social events have been cancelled or changed to reflect Covid-19 restrictions. These changes can result in disappointment, and loss, and a sense of “what next?” Do you find yourself struggling with anxiety and fear?

·        Do you, or someone you know/love live in a retirement or assisted living environment? Isolation and disconnection have occurred as a result of trying to keep people safe. But at what cost? If you have been affected it is a tough burden to bear, and can be overwhelming.

·        Have your big events…holidays, birthdays, or wedding plans been changed because of the virus? Instead of planning for food and fun with your family, are you trying to adjust to the reality of eating alone, or in a smaller group with your immediate family? Did your dreams of a big fun wedding change as you made different plans?

Holidays can be beautiful, filled with delicious food and memorable connections. Anticipated reunions and cherished traditions are normal for many of us. When our expectations need to be changed, it can be difficult… when the kids and grandkids don’t come to visit… with people out of work… when someone has died… when you or someone you know is sick… when you feel broken and lonely…when you struggle finding a reason to live… when you wonder when life will return to normal… these are all hard things to experience.  Please share your experiences in the comments below. People who care will read them and pray for you.

Think back over your life, do you have faith and hope stories you can remind yourself of that will encourage you? Are you encouraged by the great stories of faith and God working in the problems of life in the Bible, or in people you know? Do you wish to have God write hope and faith into the story of your life? God works in the weak, in the weary, in the disappointed, and in the faithless, as they turn their authentic hearts and minds towards Him, and ask for help. 

Do you find yourself feeling stress and sadness at how the pandemic has changed your life and this world? You are not alone. You may be only seeing or feeling the challenges right now. Life has taught me that with every crisis comes both challenge and opportunity. Each day brings us opportunities filled with joys and sorrows. 

I don’t want to come across as a “know-it-all” who lives in a world without struggles. I have dealt with childhood abuse, and challenges in life. I have been rewarded with hope and healing as I looked for it, in the midst of the struggles and hard times. One of the biggest challenges in my life was when my daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer and died at the age of 20 years old. It was a crisis of faith for me as what I said I believed about God and life stood toe to toe with what I was experiencing. IMy life changed so much after she died that I couldn't see a way to keep going.  I found out that a person can know a lot ABOUT God without really knowing God personally in a way that made a difference in the challenges. I thought I knew God, but like Job, I found out that as I acknowledged the challenges of my days and cried out to Him, I grew to see Him and know Him better. I learned about trusting God and putting my confidence in Him, no matter what. Is that something you can say? Is it something you would like to be able to say? Telling God you will trust Him no matter what is a decision you can make, without relying on your feelings to determine whether you can say it or not. I am speaking of commitment to trust God, even in the challenges. A place to start may be telling God that you want to know Him better and want to invite Him into all the circumstances of your life. You may only be able to breathe out simply, “SOS God. Help me.” He is there with you and hears you. Whether you feel Him, or not. 

The following verses ministered to me twenty years ago, and still do, when I get in a difficult place. The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian church from a place of suffering when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure and we thought we might never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God who raises the dead. And He did rescue and will again. We put our confidence in Him.” Can you relate? Few things strengthen relationships more than sharing personal pain. Do you have people you can share your pain with? 

Here are some suggestions and ideas for how to navigate these days. You may have other ideas or things that work for you. Please share them in the comments below.

·        If you have experienced a death without a regular funeral or service, you can still celebrate the person, although it will take some effort. A friend’s sister died without a funeral service, and she and some siblings shared “Susan stories” together on the phone. You could also do a zoom meeting or facetime. Find people you can share your person with, whether they knew the person or not. In grieving, I wrote letters to my daughter, and imagined her responses. When I could, after a time, I looked at pictures and videos of my daughter so I didn’t forget. There are many books written on grief, many of which you can get on the Audible app to listen to. You can find much grief material and helps online. Don’t give up on your journey to find what works for you.

·        Find support through the phone or online. There are grief support groups like www.griefshare.org that meet online and in person. Search for online grief support groups and try to find people like you.  Call or facetime someone. Do this every day. Share with them and allow them to share with you. You don’t have to give advice to each other, in fact advice may make you feel like there needs to be a fix. Just share and care for each other.  Grief can be so isolating. The pandemic is also isolating in many ways.

·        Admit your grief. What that looks like may be different for each of us.  Give yourself permission to cry or mourn. This may be difficult for you to do. What is your history of how you have dealt with loss over the years? Perhaps you can make new choices and find more healthy ways to express yourself. Add the practice of lament to your time with God. Many of the psalms in the Bible are words that express need or pain, and then acknowledge God is the only source of real Hope. “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”… (Matt. 5:4) The word ”mourn” here means an emotional type of throwing up. It is getting on the outside what is on the inside that needs to come out. Just like getting physically sick, it probably won’t feel good, but it serves a God purpose…For when you do this, you shall be comforted. Jesus wasn’t just happy. He wept when a friend died, and felt anguish, affection, anger, compassion, distress, joy, sadness, love, peace, sympathy and was weary. He understands our struggles, for He was human as we are.

·        Look for opportunities in the challenges. I talked about finding opportunities along with the challenges. Being thankful IN the midst of your pain (not necessarily FOR the circumstances) can be a great challenge.  But finding things to be thankful for, as you acknowledge the struggles, is a good life skill to develop. Here’s an idea- Take out a piece of paper and fold it down the middle. On one side of the paper write down the things that are hard or making you sad right now. On the other side of the paper, write down just as many things you are thankful for.  Add to the list as you need to.

·        Find different ways to celebrate the holidays. Holidays are generally about togetherness. You may have to work to find different ways to connect this year.  Ask others what they are doing. For some of us, we will find ourselves with quiet times of solitude where we reflect and remember times we could be with loved ones. Let the memories bless you. 2020 and covid will not last forever.

·        Find an activity, (everyday if possible), that gives you joy and blesses you. Schedule it. It might be a walk, watching a favorite movie, listening to music, reading or listening to a book, making a connection with someone, baking a family classic. Do you know what activities would bless you and help you cope with these days? Look for joy in small things… such as in the beauty of nature or in a song. If you have a pet, cherish the connection with it. Or consider getting a pet if you live alone.

·        Take care of your physical body. Are you bathing, eating right, sleeping regular hours, drinking water, taking your meds? If you are skipping any of these, how can you make changes?

·        Remind yourself that emotions come and go. If you feel hopeless and helpless, remind yourself that these days are but a season in your life. Ask Jesus to supernaturally grant you His grace, hope, peace, purpose, patience, love and comfort for these days. Look for His help. He loves you and promises to make everything right in the end. Focus on His unchanging love for you. If you feel separated or disappointed with God, tell Him. I like Romans 8:38-39: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  His love for you never ever ever ends.

·        Pay attention to your spiritual self. What are you doing to remind yourself of the goodness of God? Can you listen to a Christian channel on the radio, or play worship music?  Can you write out your own Psalm to God? Do you have a prayer partner? Are Bible studies a blessing to you? Can you watch church online?

Angela Miller, author of “A Bed for My Heart” writes: “Even if you don’t believe in hope- not even a little – hope will light the way for you. At times you won’t realize your path is lit. The darkness feels all consuming when you are in it. But know the Light is there. Surrounding you now. And now. And now.”  I encourage you to look for the Light, friend.  You are the one who decides what makes life worth living and how you will live each day, even with your challenges. 

This Christmas we can focus on the essence of Christmas- the Present of Jesus’ Presence. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” says 2 Cor. 9:15.  Let Christmas remind you of Jesus’ birth - who came to earth so God could orchestrate Easter to pay for our sin. Christmas is the griever’s holiday as it points us to the beginning of God’s solution for death and our pain, through the death and resurrection of Christ. There is a message of Hope, if we look. 

I will end with the words of Alison Cook who says: “May the gentle ways of Jesus permeate your soul, as you lean into His deep love for all of who you are.” Seek the Lord and you will find Him. Life teaches me that. I pray you will seek Him too, and see that He was already standing close by.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Reasons to attend a Grief Support Group
By Jo Winkowitsch, Milford, Iowa

I have been thinking about why a person might want to attend a grief support group. It has been many years since I was catapulted into grief by my daughter’s death. Since then I have been trained in grief by my own losses and through education. I have been drawn into being part of the grief support community to help provide a safe place for people to be educated and supported as they processed their own pain and grief. GriefShare was born out of desire to help people find their way in their grief. For those who need the help, Griefshare is a wonderful resource.

Here are some reasons for a person to consider attending a grief support group:
1. You feel alone or disorientated and can’t seem to find your way. As your relationship with the deceased was unique, so is your grief journey. At a support group you will learn you are not alone on your grief journey, and will find hope that you can find ways to cope and adjust as you share your journey with those who understand. Grief reminds us of how fragile life is, and at a grief support group everyone knows how difficult it is to deal with the losses.

2. You find yourself wondering if you will “get over it” as you think about your grief and loss. As you share and process your grief you will come to understand that grief is a lifelong process when you lose someone to death. You will come to see that you must find your own way of grief, and that you must be patient with yourself as you go. While the agonizing pain of loss diminishes over time, it is never completely gone. People are irreplaceable.

3. Your life seems meaningless and you are having trouble finding a purpose in life. Being with people who are understanding and non-judgmental listeners will help you acknowledge your feelings and help you learn to adjust to your losses as you find your way in your new life. Finding a new purpose in life is part of the grief process and those at a grief support group know that and will support you as you listen and share.

4. You have people in your life who say things like… “God won’t give you more than you can endure,” or “It’s all for the best”, or “God needed another angel,” or “You will be your old self soon.” At Griefshare you will learn that everyone has to find their own way and that it is not helpful to share clichés or platitudes to try to help someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. You are feeling what you feel and need not try to talk yourself out of your pain or to try to figure out the whys of what happened. A grief group will help educate you on what is healthy grieving and will help you process the helpful and not helpful things well-meaning people say.

5. You worry that death ended your relationship with the one you lost. At a support group you will likely find ways to celebrate the love you shared and the person you loved. Death may have ended your loved one’s life, but it did not end your relationship with that person. You carry your memories and love with you as you live your life. Death cannot steal what you have in your heart and mind.

6. You have suffered losses in your life and don’t want to think about them. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4. The word mourn here means to get on the outside what it on the inside. I wonder what happens when a person fails to get their sadness on the outside, do they not find comfort? I have seen some come through groups who come in with frozen faces, finding it difficult to talk about or feel the pain of their losses. I have seen people thaw and change as they find a safe place to feel and share and learn. A grief group can be intimidating, but the benefits can provide an amazing freedom and relief, helping a person better deal with the natural process of dealing with the loss of someone special to them. Healing means that one can think about the loved one or be reminded of the losses without feeling like they will fall apart.

Griefshare is a grief support group that meets weekly for 13 weeks. It is meant to be a warm, caring environment and is designed to be an “oasis” on a journey through grief. Each week has time for grief experts and fellow grievers to share about a different subject, and a time for discussion. But no one is forced to talk if they don’t want to.
The Okoboji Griefshare meets at the Okoboji Lakes Bible Conference Community Center at 45 S Hwy 71, Arnolds Park, Iowa. It will begin at 6:30 PM on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015 and continue for 12 more weeks. For more information call Jo Winkowitsch, ph. 712-330-7091. Or go to www.griefshare.org and put your zip code in.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Sunrise of the Soul
by Jo Winkowitsch

I walked in humble awe today,
Overtaken by the lessons and beauty
as the cold, lonely night was transfigured
by Morning's warm touch.
She lifted her brilliant yellow, pink and blue glory
from where she had hidden all night,
and brought a sea of light to the once-dark world...
(A world which had long been held captive
In monotone hues and discouraging horizons).
She whispered to me
that she must be appreciated
and experienced in the present moment...
with eyes and hearts intoxicated
by her gentle strength and beauty.
If not, she would be missed.
Pushing her head up...
She displaced the darkness,
and glowed with the blessed hope
of Promise, of Beauty, of Peace.
I am struck with how this mirrors life.
I see a glimmer of what is to be
as I awaken from a long sleep
to fix my eyes on a surprising majesty
and splendor being offered by a
sweet sunrise in my soul.
I dare not describe it to you...
for words seem flat and lacking...
but my heart is beginning to delight in,
and be excited by what I see and feel...
For now Light is dancing with what was...
I wonder if such a sunrise is best shared
by those who find themselves
content to be standing close...
sharing their views as they dare to look...
I cannot answer that question alone...
So
Today...
I watch the sunrise and wait
to see
what she will reveal,
and who will stay with me
to enjoy what she has to offer.
My heart overflows with tears of joy
as I thank God
for the opportunity to witness and experience
the amazing mystery of a new day dawning... ...
For Night said it would never be so...
( written 8 months after Joslin died )

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Life goes on...
by Jo Winkowitsch, in memory of Joslin

It may surprise you to know that as a bereaved mother, I sometimes forget that I am. I don’t forget Joslin, I just forget she is gone. What about you, do you forget sometimes? Denial blankets me at times, even after 10 Christmases celebrated without my dear daughter. It feels strange when I go to Walmart and see something she might have liked and I find myself carrying it to the checkout before I realize she is not here to enjoy the gift. I see someone who looks like her from the back and want to follow her around the store and pretend it is her. Think me insane? If you have lost a child, you probably understand. My sincere excuse is that sometimes our frail beings need a break from the awfulness of losing a child, and it is understandable that we might try to escape to a happier place and time where they lived and interacted with us.

Joslin was 20 when she died of bone cancer. I thought I would die of a broken heart, but here I am. In some ways, my heart is still broken and will always be. (Again if you have experienced the death of a child, you understand). But there is now a resigned acceptance in me of what has happened, (finally knowing there is nothing I can do to change it), and I have grown more used to her absence and to the pain of it. That's what I tell newly bereaved parents, that it will get better down the road because they will get more used to the pain and to their new lives. I am not sure that helps…but it is all I have.

Missing someone you love is one of the most difficult agonies there is, I believe. Friends may try to cheer you up and remind you that your loved one is in a better place, but the reality is, they are gone, and that hurts. It is the hurt that keeps on hurting. It is a chronic pain, and though we might hobble on in life, we find ourselves changed and carrying a burden we didn't desire. But we are forced to carry it. Some of our friends will understand, or at least try to. Others, who I call the “clueless,” will say well-meaning things and attempt to cure our pain. Some days I do better than other days, and those who know and love me accept that.

Joslin would have been thirty years old in January. I cannot imagine her that age. She was barely done being a teenager when she died… Now of course, she would have matured and maybe even had a family. She loved children. Those of you who have grandchildren from the child you lost, does it make it easier for you? Or do you look at the child and see your son or daughter? Is there a constant pain when you wonder what your child would have contributed to the lives of their children? I wonder about that sometimes.

I met a lady a few nights ago who lost her 40-something daughter recently… and I was reminded that no matter how long we have our children, when they die, it is too soon. It is so unnatural for a child to die first. My gravesite waits for me to be laid next to the body of my daughter… and I remember the last time I laid next to her on her bed the night before she died. It seems like just yesterday… and it seems like forever since that day. Time is disrupted when a child dies. Perhaps it will always be strange, and that is part of the "new normal" we must deal with.

Another year beckons… it will be incomplete for me because my family is incomplete and will always be. If you have lost a child you know the feeling. The beautiful blonde haired daughter who made me laugh and cry as she uniquely blessed my life is gone… Gone except for the times I get small glimpses of her in my mirror and for the times I hear her laugh when I am with my grandchildren… They are priceless Joslin rememberings for me And they will have to do, for now.

I count off another year… one more year without my child… one more year closer to heaven… and life goes on, now always colored with sorrow and with joy...
Dec. 2008

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A ReWoven Life
By Jk Loring

Here I sit in front of a blank page on my computer. It has been difficult for me to decide on what I wanted to write about as a guest columnist for “Good Grief.” My wish is to help someone, anyone, who is struggling with the loss of someone they loved, whether that be a child, a spouse, a friend, a grandparent, a parent or a sibling. The list is endless. The grief will be different each time because of the variables of who you are, what the person who died was like, what your relationship with them consisted of, and what the circumstances were surrounding the death. Unique, one of a kind, special.

In the past 12 years, loss through death has rattled my life several times. It hasn't made me an expert in any sense of the word. (I don't think we can ever become experts at the mourning process because of the differences in each relationship.) I have simply muddled through the messy process of trying to become whole again. It has made me a deeper, more compassionate person. When someone loses a loved one, my heart breaks all over again.

I can tell you that each of us, at one time or another, will have to walk this road. Unless we cut off every relationship we have ever had and run off somewhere alone for the remainder of our lives... we will experience grief. It is unfortunately a part of life. When I look back on my life, I think of all those I have lost to death. Those relationships were so full of love and laughter and hope. That is why it hurt so much to lose them. I think of Garth Brooks' song back in the early 90's "The Dance"...... it talks about the end of a relationship. One of the lines was something like, "but I would have missed the dance." How true that is of death. If we had never had the deep relationships, full of life, pain, love, laughter, sorrow, disagreements and just the daily life stuff, we would never feel the heart wrenching pain that comes from death. If we would never love... we would never grieve. We would also lead very lonely and unfulfilled lives.

I've learned that words aren't necessarily needed. "I'm so sorry" will usually go so much farther than a lot of words. The more words we use, the easier it is to say something dumb or insensitive. Not that we mean to add hurt to pain, it just happens. Hugs, holding a hand, sharing tears, heal the heart so much better than advice. If you have experienced people trying to help you and saying the wrong things, forgive them and let it go. If to do that, you need to confront the statement, do so in love. If they have never experienced grief, they just don't know. People don't mean to be mean; they just have never been where you are. It is in those times that the grieving process can seem almost worse than the death. The death has separated you from the one you love, and the grieving process often seems like it separates you from everyone else.

Rarely is healing a clear, precise process. It often involves a lot of crying, anger, crying, denial, crying, confusion, crying and a whole lot of prayer. In my case, obviously, I am a crier. The process is on its own time table. The grief process is longer for some than it is for others. No one should tell you when you should be over it, that is a choice you alone have. When everyone around you goes back to their own lives, you will see who has been changed by grief along with you. They are the ones who call a lot, just to see how you are doing, the ones who listen while you pour out your heart and don't try to correct you, and they are the ones who cry with you

Our society is very uncomfortable with death and grief. Death we have to deal with. Grief lasts much longer than most people want to deal with. It is uncomfortable, emotional and there aren't a lot of firm rules. If you run and hide, ignore it, or stuff it, it is very patient, it will wait. Five months, five years or five decades, it will still be there. It doesn't care how long, it waits. As it waits, it will slowly taint your life with fear, sarcasm, bitterness, and loneliness until one morning you wake up to realize grief is still there. It has stolen more than just the person you loved, it has stolen precious years of your life. Not dealing with grief allows it to steal your health, your peace and your deepest relationships. Instead of being able to share what is on your heart with the people you love, you find yourself avoiding subjects and walking on egg shells.

It takes courage to go through the whole grieving process and not get hung up in one place or another. With a loved one gone there are so many empty places in your life. Everything that was once so normal becomes painful, emotional, and disconnected. A song, a food, a smell of aftershave, a favorite place, a certain time of day, all these things and more can be triggers to pain, tears or anger. It is okay to cry. My mom used to say that tears were like baptism, there to wash your heart and your soul clean again. It is okay to be angry and express that anger to God, He is big enough to handle it. Even when you come to the conclusion that you aren't angry with God but He sure must not like you much, He can heal that too, if you let him. He does love you. And He knows what you are dealing with. Remembering those we loved will bring so much healing to our lives. The memories, the laughter, the stories and the tears…those things are the things that bring healing. Talking about those you have lost with people who listen may help you heal much more quickly than stuffing all those memories and feelings.

Will our lives ever be the same again? No. Will we ever be happy again? Yes. But our lives will never be the same. They will be different. Hopefully, they will be deeper and rich in the hope of eternity. The pain doesn't go away but we learn to let it make us love deeper, live passionately and laugh at every opportunity.

When God first started to heal my heart, He brought to my heart Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." At that time my family and I were going through a period of 6 years in which we lost five people that had been woven into the material of our lives. The last thing it looked like was plans to prosper us and not harm us. About that time I had a dream of a beautiful woven tapestry that was hanging on my living room wall. Suddenly, among the different colors and textures, threads started to fall out. It left the tapestry with huge gaps and empty spaces. It looked impossible to repair. Ruined and destroyed, it hung there for everyone to see, not looking at all like the beautiful piece of art it once was. I cried over it, I tried to pull it down, I started to question. Was it something I did, how did this happen, why, why, why? I started to look for threads that could fill in the empty spots. The right texture, the right color, and size just couldn't be found. I tried different things but nothing worked. I had come to the point where I knew there was nothing I could do to fix it. At that point I fell to my knees and gave it up to God. I could see Jesus walk up to it and gently touch the edges. Softly He began to weave tiny threads into the tattered tapestry. At this point I realized that the tapestry represented my life and what I was going through at this time. Slowly he was weaving His thread into my struggling, wounded life. So thin and so delicate were the threads that I could hardly see any progress. I closed my eyes just for a moment. When I opened them again I could see the new weave. It was far from fixed but the shimmering golden threads gave me a sense of expectation, a renewed hope. Even though it was not what it was before, I could see that He had a plan to make it a beautiful piece of art once more… never to be the same again, but from this point forward, possessing a color and a richness that was not there before.

That is what God wants to do when our lives are shattered and tattered and torn. If we will just allow Him to come into the situations of our lives, He can (and will) fill in the empty spaces with rich threads of His abundant grace and mercy. So it is when we lose someone we love to death. Only He holds the answers. Only He can fill the empty spaces of loss. There is only One who can make us whole again. His name is Jesus, Lord of lords, King of kings, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

Through the whole walk of grief, I know that He was the one companion who never left me and never misunderstood me. He saw me crazy and a mess but never judged me. He saw my heart and knew my cries. He gently put me back together again and filled in the gaps with His love, patience and hope. I am changed. I will never be who I was before death came, yet I am becoming more and more who He made me to be from the very beginning. My life is being rewoven by the Master weaver.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Is it Grief or Depression?

By Jo Winkowitsch

When our daughter died of cancer, we were of course sad. I began my journey through grief thinking I would feel better as time went on. But after about six months, my grief became a deep hole I wondered if I would ever climb out of. What I thought was probably normal grief became a constant, dark, heavy blanket I felt covered by. I became more and more weary of living. Finally, a wise person suggested that I might be depressed, and I sought help. Eventually my life became one I could enjoy again. But it took time and effort.

Through my experience I came to see that it can be challenging to distinguish between depression and grief. Many of the traditional signs of depression are also present in those who are grieving. This article will attempt to point out some of the similarities and differences. Perhaps it will help you or someone you love.

Grief is a very real and painful experience. It is the price we pay for having loved someone. It is extremely complex, consisting often of sadness, anxiety, fear, doubt, guilt, loneliness, helplessness, and despair. A griever can experience sleeplessness, loss of appetite, an inability to concentrate, and extreme physical weariness or exhaustion. Grief can be understood as the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, behavioral and intellectual changes that occur in response to a loss.

Symptoms of Grief: Symptoms may include any or all of the following: * Unintended weight loss or gain of 10 or more pounds * Ineffectiveness at work or thinking * Inability to function well * Loss of interest in things that previously interested you * Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness * Insomnia * Obsessive thoughts about death or suicide * Hallucinations Symptoms of Depression: If any of these or other disturbing symptoms persist constantly for several weeks, you may be developing clinical depression. Often it is helpful to speak with a pastor or friend or grief counselor about what you are feeling. Sometimes it is necessary to intervene with medicine, due to the intensity of the symptoms.

Grief changes. In most cases, people progress through the symptoms of grief, and these symptoms slowly diminish over time. People may periodically experience intense times of grief (an acute grief reaction), but the overall intensity wanes. Grief is often experienced in waves, which is usually in response to a specific loss. New waves of grief may be predictably triggered in response to recognizing a new loss or part to your grief, or unpredictably triggered by incidents that happen (for example, hearing a treasured song or noticing a stranger's resemblance to a loved one). The ability to feel pleasure is not lost in persons who are grieving. Most will still look forward to special occasions and visits from family and friends. Depression often causes a stuck state. It can become pathological. There are persistent grief symptoms that don’t go away, covering all aspects of a person’s life. This is characteristic of what depression is. A depressed person often loses all joy in living, and loses hope that they might ever enjoy life fully again. Seek immediate help if you or someone you know is talking about committing suicide, homicide, or is engaging in another destructive behavior.

Social Interactions when in Grief: People who are grieving often need social interaction to help them through the grieving process. Social support enables patients to tolerate the pain of loss while providing the necessary assistance for feeling and talking about their grief. Social Interactions when Depressed: People who are depressed often do not derive pleasure or solace from social interaction and may appear isolated and withdrawn. While temporary social withdrawal might serve a purpose in the grieving process (as in taking time to review life and consider choices), it contributes to a worsening spiral of isolation and depressed mood in persons who are depressed.

Agitation with Grief: Persons who are grieving may be agitated during the early stages but usually respond to support and counseling. Agitation and overreaction often diminish or resolve with time as grief is dealt with. Agitation with Depression: When agitation is present in persons with depression, it may persist without much response to supportive measures. Overreaction can become even more extreme over time, often with little provocation.

Grief and depression, as distinct but related processes, can result in intense suffering. Fortunately, much can be done to help people deal with grief and depression. Grief can be supported and facilitated, and depression can be treated. Whether grief or depression, it is important to work on the causes or underlying issues, and not just the symptoms you are experiencing. But recognizing and knowing the reactions to grief and their duration can help you to know what kind of help you need.