Searching

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Something I enjoy, that I don’t have much time for these days, is antiquing. Wandering through those shops, reminiscing about items on the shelves gathering dust that were once in my room, brand new and valued, conjures up memories, some good and some better left forgotten, but all the same, I enjoy it. Never do I leave an antique mall, whether here at home or on a trip, that I don’t stop in the art section and check the paintings for the Lady In Red.

She was a mystery. She hung on the wall in my family room until I was a teenager. I would sketch her or pretend I was in her room, watching her put her makeup on. I made up stories about who she was and why she was wearing that ball gown. She looked over her shoulder right at me, and so I felt like I needed to give her a story, give her some truth or identity.

My dad, Peter Pochodaj, sailed on the General M L Hersey from Bremerhaven, Germany, where he was born and spent the first 2 years of his life. My grandfather Petro, and my Oma, Elfriede, were with him, along with his sister Irena. They were leaving behind a very broken country, in the aftermath of WWII, looking for a place to better their lives and raise a family, without the bruised identification that came with being German. My grandparents left behind paintings and rugs, dishes and silver, and a life filled with suffering and secrets. I often wonder if landing on Ellis Island all those years ago made them feel like everything that they left behind would maybe just stay there. It didn’t because the past may be behind us, but it is also who we are, woven into us, it walks with us and often haunts us until properly dealt with, and even then, it doesn’t actually leave us.

So they ended up in Detroit. In order to make the money they needed, as an immigrant family, my grandfather went to work in a factory and my Oma opened a German novelty storefront shop. She gathered art, rugs, dishes and knick-knacks most likely things similar to what she had left behind and she sold them. From that shop came the Lady In Red. She was not the only painting my father acquired from his mother, there were many others on our walls growing up. German villages and streets, castles in Switzerland, and rolling hills and mountains, most likely someplace in Austria, but none held my attention like her. Owning his own business though, finances were never guaranteed, and when it came down to providing for his family or selling some of those paintings, my dad did what he always did, he chose provision for us, and many of the paintings were sent to a consignment shop. And so I search for her. I don’t expect to find her, but I will continue to browse through the musty smelling sections of any antique shop I’m in, on the off chance she is tucked away somewhere.

There is a part of me that searches for Grace and I probably always will. When the three of us get in the car, I still look in the rear view mirror to see if both of them are buckled. Any family gatherings we have, extended or not, before we pray, every single time, I want to stop the person about to pray and tell them that not everyone is with us yet. When my sister and I used to take the girls places, we would just count, 1,2,3,4,5 heads. Always counting. I still count. When Evelyn struggles with friends, I search for the tactful words of my oldest, who made a joke about so many things, making light of heavy situations because she was a master at breaking up tension. I search for her presence every day, in small insignificant things and huge, overwhelming things. I still cry myself to sleep some nights because at the end of the day, no amount of searching will recover what I’ve lost.

There is a truth to that that weighs on my soul. It pulls me, sometimes jerks me, in a direction of pain, sadness, and despair. I fight that battle often, if I’m being honest. It’s easier to fight when I’m not thinking about it, and easier to not think about it when I keep extremely busy, but when this locomotion, that moves at full speed, has an obstacle in the tracks, let me tell you, derailment is not far behind.

I know the truth of what my life is. I know that my search will continue. I know that my emotional state will always be a little like that train. There are days, weeks and even months now, that I can be on track (pun intended), speeding along, actually enjoying my life, broken as it might be, and before I know it, something falls in my path and slows the whole thing down, and it takes me time to recover. But recover, I will continue to do.

Why? It’s not mental fortitude. It’s not because I have a great husband, family and friends. I do, but that’s not what keeps me recovering. It’s not because I can look down the line and see an end, because I don’t, there isn’t an end to grief, it just looks differently as the years race by.

Jesus is my truth. And considering “He is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), I have no reason to not recover. What He did and said and paid for to rescue me from sin and death, gives me every reason to continue recovering, no matter the difficulty. God does not derail me, my emotions do, my grief does, life’s hardships and struggles, stress and sometimes people can derail me, but God never does. He holds my hand and helps me clean up the mess, and then shows me how to get back on track.

I will continue to search for the Lady In Red. I will continue to search for pieces of my Gracie girl that are left all over (yes, like glitter), but I will never search for an answer. I need no answers to why or what if. I have the only answer I will ever need, and He is not a mystery or hiding somewhere out of reach. Jesus is my answer. That search ended the moment I found Him.

Searching

Rescue

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was asked to substitute teach the 4th/5th grade class at our school a couple weeks ago. They behaved, which I didn’t doubt, but one of the ways that I kept them focused is by promising to tell a story to them every time they got their work done and had some extra minutes. A story from when I was little. “Raise your hand if you want to hear about the time I was dared to run across a swamp or the time I was attacked by a dog or the time I was challenged to swim across the neighbor’s pond?” Hands went up for each tale, and by the end of the day, we got through all three and I think I managed to add in the one about the time I got stuck at the top of a tree playing hide and seek.

My childhood stories, as I’ve already shared, were one of Grace’s favorite things to listen to. And I have so many. So, because you are reading, and I am feeling the need to write, you are in for another story.

There are two very distinct memories I have of almost drowning. The first happened while my friend and I were playing in the creek behind her house. It was winter and we were stomping through the ice. Most of the creek was fairly shallow, and we knew where the deep spots were, or so we thought. I remember her walking in front of me and I watched as she jumped up and then came down hard, with both feet, crackling the ice into what seemed like a million pieces of shattered glass. Her feet would quickly fall through and there she stood, ankle (or sometimes knee) deep in freezing water. We were prepared for such an adventure with snow boots, strategically lined with bread bags, to keep the water from soaking our clothes. She would giggle, jump, turn around and smile at me every time. I would do the same. Trying to find spots that she hadn’t already broken through, I moved a little further to the middle. I shouted out her name, jumped high, pulled my knees up and came down hard on the ice. I heard the cracks and prepared for my 6 inch slip to the bottom, but I had moved too far out, and the fun that we had been having, came to a screeching halt. I remember feeling very cold, instantly. Freezing water was stinging my face as I reached around, trying to get a hold of something sturdy. Ice breaks so quickly when you are in a panic. I tried to calm myself down in order to think clearly about what to do next, when I looked up and saw my friend’s face. She was laying down on the ice, with a tree branch held out to me. I grabbed the branch and then her arm and she slowly backed up and brought me out of the water. She rescued me. We walked home that day, at a much quicker pace than usual, trying to get out of the cold and into warm clothes (undetected by our parents, so we didn’t get into trouble), and I don’t even remember saying thank you. It was just what she did, she was my best friend, and she rescued me from drowning that day.

The second memory I have of almost drowning was at a family friend’s pond. My whole family was on one of those big black inner tubes. We were laughing and bobbing up and down, in the middle of the pond, when I slipped off the back of the tube. Time really does slow down when something like this happens. I remember sinking, eyes wide open but unable to see anything due to the dark and murkiness of pond water. I felt something grab the back of my swimsuit and I was quickly jerked back to the water’s surface. My dad had went in after me, reached down, felt my body and just grabbed a hold. I sputtered water out as he hoisted me back to the top of the inner tube. Again, I don’t think I ever said thank you. It was just what he did, he was my dad, and he rescued me from sinking that day.

There is a song called “No Longer Slaves” that was released by Bethel’s worship team. In it, there is a line that says “You rescued me so I can stand and sing, I am a child of God.”

I’ve thought about that line so many times the past couple years. Rescued in order to testify. What have we been rescued from and are we doing a proper job at standing and proclaiming our thanks, our gratitude, to the one who rescued us?

2 Peter 2:9 says “…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials.”

If you know Jesus as your Savior, trust Him to rescue you. He has rescued me, over and over again. He has pulled me up from deep despair. He has held out His Hand when I couldn’t think clearly. He has put the right song in my heart, the right person in my path, the right verse on my mind. But when you do feel the rescue…thank Him, but not just in words, thank Him by letting people know that you have been rescued by the only One who can truly rescue you for all of eternity. Don’t be afraid to tell people. There are so many people drowning. In addiction, despair, depression and anxiety. In family circumstances that leave them feeling like they can’t see in front of them because it’s all too dark and murky. In lies that are spread that make them feel like freezing water is stinging their face. When He rescues you, and He will, let people know.

Tell the story about the rescue that saved your soul.

Rescue

My dearest grieving friends

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There is so much I could tell you, so many things that I’ve learned, but I know that, unfortunately, this is a solitary road and you will often feel like you are walking it alone.

But I am writing this to hopefully remind you that no matter what you feel, you are normal. It’s been felt before, it’s been said before and it’s been thought before.

In the beginning you will feel very confused. You will be sad, but the sadness doesn’t yet take hold of your daily life. You are in shock. Some days you will wake up and it will take you a moment to remember what happened. Your entire world just came crashing down, it takes awhile for the dust to settle.

You will count the days at first. It’s been 4 days since I’ve seen their face. It’s been 7 days since I’ve heard their voice. Soon it will be weeks that you count and then months, but at some point, you will lose track and when that happens, something else inside you breaks. This is your normal now. Evidence that time really does make you forget and that will hurt. Get used to random things hurting. This doesn’t fade.

You will run into well-meaning people that will, honestly, try to make you feel better with all sorts of well-meaning words. Some things will help, but most often it will just make you want to run away from the situation, hide your face and your feelings from the world. Don’t feel bad about that. You have an open wound, one that needs time to heal. What most people don’t understand is that the looks of pity and the questions about the pain just reopen a wound that you are desperately trying to keep protected. This will get easier.

There will also be people who will tell you that they understand your loss because they lost something too. I could give you an endless list of what people have related my loss to. A job, a dog, a great-aunt who was 101. Sometimes this will make you angry, but try to remember this one thing, they don’t understand, because no one can. The relationship you had with your loved one was unlike an other relationship you have ever had and will ever have. No one can completely understand your loss. I can meet someone tomorrow whose daughter was tragically killed in a car accident at 17, and guess what? They can sympathize with me on a level that most cannot, but they didn’t lose their Grace Elizabeth, their first born, best friend, with the sweaty nose and heavy feet. I can’t fault anyone for not getting that. Your relationship was special and unique. This will eventually give you comfort.

The five stages of grief are not complete and are not gospel. They are a guideline, one that was established for terminally ill patients nearing death, not necessarily a grieving heart. I can say, from experience, you can go through all 5 stages in a matter of minutes and you can probably add like 10 more. Don’t get stuck in what a book tells you to feel. Don’t let anyone tell you what your grief walk should look like. Respect the journey. The highs and lows alike will be unique to you, but let yourself feel them all. Don’t allow yourself to check out. When it overwhelms you, be overwhelmed, it’s healthy and natural.

There will be days when it takes everything in you to simply get out of bed. This won’t necessarily be in the first months. Studies show that it take about 6 months for the initial shock of grief to subside, and some say that the 9 month marker is the worst. People will tell you the 1 year anniversary is terrible and still others will say the second year is the hardest. When it hits (and it might be multiple times) it will hit hard. It can consume you. There were nights, if I can be honest, that I hoped with everything in me that I didn’t wake up in the morning. That may seem incredibly selfish, considering what I have to live for, but when all you want is to wrap your arms around the one you lost, your life loses its value and eternity becomes very appealing.

I could write pages, probably a book, of things you might feel, of things I have felt. The days that seeing her picture makes me smile, or the days that I avoid seeing anything that reminds me of her at all. How good it feels when someone mentions her name or tells me a memory, but the sting that accompanies it every single time. Learning that it’s ok to laugh again. Letting God place particular people in your life, maybe completely unexpected ones, that end up becoming your greatest support. Learning who you are all over again. Staying in comfort zones, where people know you, they know your story, so you can avoid the overwhelming anxiety of talking to someone new and the possibility of them asking any questions that might require you to talk about it. The fear that you will never be the same again. The pain, that slowly fades, but still remains, with every breath, with every sigh and with every memory.

Write down a list of what you know to be true. It can be anything. The first thing on our list, a week after the accident, was that it was cold out. We knew that for sure. Our list went on, though, with other things that we knew were true. God was still on the throne and we still loved Him. We knew that we were surrounded by people that loved us. This will help.

My dear friend, you are not alone. Many have been on this road, I have been on this road. I’ve walked it, I’ve crawled it, I’ve been carried a time or two, and sometimes, still, I just lay down, unable to move forward at all. You are normal, this is necessary, but God is near

All my love, as we journey together.

My dearest grieving friends