Sunday, August 29, 2010

Loss and Grief in The Technological Age

Over the past few years, I have loved how technology has kept my family connected.    When cell phones first became the norm in our family, many of us soon decided to stay connected more economically by either making sure we were all using the same provider, or by  having a family plan that allowed us to call each other out of a "free bucket of minutes."  Even though my children were all grown and had left home when we first became connected by cell phone use, suddenly, Mom was always available, even when she was away from home.  I was ok with this new phenomena.  I love being connected to my kids.

When texting came into vogue, my daughters reacted quite strongly to my first few texts.  They said it  was "just wrong" for a mom to be texting.  That didn't last long.  We were soon texting each other regularly.

Then, along came facebook.  My oldest daughter got me started on that social networking system.  Before long, it seemed the entire extended family was connected.  Cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, even my 94 year old mother, were all sharing memories, experiences and daily status updates with each other via facebook.  It was great.

Then, my youngest daughter died in May.  The unthinkable happened.  She ended her life.  By doing this, all communication with her stopped suddenly, and without warning.  I never got to say good-bye.  Even worse, she did not call me, text me, or try to talk to me before her fateful last action.  In a time when I thought we could all communicate so readily and easily, communication with my fourth child stopped.  No matter how amazing technology has become,  I will never hear from her again.

Not long after Julie's death, my oldest daughter set up a "Memorial Page" on my youngest daughter's facebook page.  She writes to her sister often.  She expresses some of her sorrow, her grief, and even her anger, on this memorial page.  Sometimes, my daughter's friends will post to her memorial page.  When I read these posts, I sometimes cry as if my heart will break.  Even though these public expressions of grief often greatly upset me, I also find that they are also very comforting and healing.  Julie's friends and I are now all connected in a new way:  we are connected via the internet in our experience and expression of grief.

I never write to my now deceased daughter on her memorial page.  I may make comments to other postings.  I seldom mention my grief on my facebook status update.  I have not devoted much blog space to my loss.  Instead, I have mostly expressed my grief and loss through a more private modality.  I have not felt comfortable expressing the depth of my emotions in the public arena.  

After the death of my daughter, I turned to my handwritten journal to express all that I was experiencing and thinking.  My journal has always been where I have recorded my private thoughts, fears, dreams, disappointment, frustrations, deepest longings and most wonderful joys.  Writing seemed to be the most logical action to take when I found myself stripped of everything that made sense.  

I have filled nearly an entire journal with pages and pages of writing since my daughter's death.  This writing has been for me, and me alone.  It is through writing, with pen and paper, that I have been able to pour out my heart.  I have not wanted my expressions of grief to be in the public eye.  I may change how I feel about this someday, but for now, I find my private, hand-written journal to be my source of comfort and healing.

I do believe I am on the road to healing, whatever that means.  At least, I know that I am not as overwhelmed with grief, shock and unbelief as I was in the early days of summer.  I am grateful for that.  I must also acknowledge that technology has been an important part of my healing.  Through technology, I am able to connect with my daughter's many wonderful friends.  They have been a source of comfort to me.  I laugh at their posts about daily life.  I admire the pictures of their children.  I cry over their expressions of grief.  I am amazed at how compassionate and supportive they have been to me and my entire family.  We are connected because of technology.

I am able to chat and text my other children.  We cry with each other and express our sorrow via cell phones and texts.  We try to support each other as much as we can since miles separate us.  Through technology, I am able to Skype my youngest son in Bangladesh.  When a mom has a son and his family so far away, I often find myself thinking, "Thank God for Skype and instant messaging." Technology keeps my family connected in wonderful ways as we deal with our incredible loss.  The other night, I was texting with a daughter, while she texted with her sister, and I was at the very same time instant messaging with my son in Bangladesh.  Technology is really very amazing. It certainly plays an important role in the way I am dealing with my own personal loss and grief.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Devotional Prepared For My Bible Study Group

Planting Flowers with Atticus
June 2010
At the request of some of my readers, I am publishing a devotional that I wrote and presented a few weeks ago for my Ladies Bible Study Group.   

Our Hearts - God's Garden

This past winter and early spring, I enrolled in a course to earn a Colorado Master Gardener certificate through Colorado State University Extension.  On the first day of class, we were issued a three inch green notebook that would serve as our textbook for the 16 week course.  The notebook alone was enough to intimidate me, but when I looked at the topics of study, I really felt like I was in for a very intense experience.  Needless to say, I have only scratched the surface in my journey toward becoming a true master gardener, so don’t ask me too many questions about the problems you are having in your own garden this year.
Gardening has always been something that I enjoyed, but I have described myself as a dig in the dirt kind of gardener.  I didn’t always know what I was doing, and I certainly didn’t have some grand design in mind when I started planting.  I just knew what I liked, and I tried to group things together that I thought might look good.  Mostly, I like to garden because it is in the garden where I find peace, solitude, and inspiration.  I have always said that pulling weeds is good for the soul.

I find it interesting that mankind began in a garden.  The first man was a gardener.  God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and gave him complete freedom there, but along with that freedom, he also gave him the responsibility to tend and care for the beautiful garden that God had created for man and for his helpmate, Eve.  We all know the story of how the serpent came to Eve and tempted her.  By the end of the day, both Adam and Eve had sinned.  Sin shattered God’s perfect creation, and man was separated from God because of his desire to act on his own.  This act of sin affected all of creation and to this day, we must toil as we work to grow fruit, vegetable and flowers.
As we study scripture, we see the motif of the garden throughout the Bible.  I was reminded of this recently, when I read a devotional written by Charles Spurgeon.  In his classic work Morning and Evening he tells us that the believer’s heart is Christ’s garden.  Think of that.  Jesus, the true Master Gardener, is at work in the heart of every believer.  He bought us with His precious blood in order to redeem that which was lost in the Garden of Eden because of sin.  Because He owns our hearts, He enters in and claims our lives as His own.
Think of a beautiful garden, and then think of your life.  As Spurgeon says, a garden implies separation.  It is not the open common as you might find in Boston Common, nor is it the wilderness.  A carefully tended garden is walled in, or hedged in.  So it is with our lives, there must be a degree of separation from the world if we are to have God’s perfect work in our lives.
While wild uncultivated ground can be interesting and even beautiful, a garden is a place of beauty.  Spurgeon reminds us that God’s garden ought to produce the best flowers in the world.  “The rarest, richest, choicest lilies and roses out to bloom in that place that Jesus call his own.  He doesn’t want any shrinking violets, or withering vines in His garden.
For this to happen, the garden has to be a place of growth.  We are not to remain undeveloped, or only in the budding stage.  We are to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  As we seek to grow in this grace and knowledge, we are to rely on the Lord to send us his refreshing water that we will need to grow. Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you always, he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
In Jeremiah 31:12, God’s people are told, “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord - the grain, the new wine and the oil, the young of the flocks and herds, They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.”
Life, like gardening, can be messy, and dirty.  In her book, Gardening Mercies, Laurie Ostby Kehler reminds us that gardening can be hard work.  We don’t see growth in our lives, or in our gardens, without time and effort.  The rewards of putting in the time and effort yield us much in beauty and bounty.  The same is true when we allow God to work in our lives.  When we join Him in tending our hearts, we produce that which cannot perish: eternal fruit.
My mother recently tucked this great beautiful little reminder in a card of encouragement that she sent me reminding me to take life one day at a time.  "Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity."  ~ Lindsey Karstens ~
This spring and summer have been the most painful seasons of my life.  This year more than ever, my garden has been a place where I can work, grieve, and find much peace and serenity.   In the garden, I find the Giver of all comfort.  


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Life With A Retired Principal On The Day Before School Begins

Treasured Memories of Autumn Days as An Educator

Stepping out on the back porch yesterday morning, I felt autumn in the air.  As always, the sense of fall approaching has been met by me with both nostalgia and ambivalence.  Autumn is my favorite time of year.  The colors, the smells, and the events of autumn always fill me with anticipation and excitement concerning what the new year will bring.  I have lived the school calendar schedule for most of my adult life.  I am now very programed to respond to autumn with plans for the upcoming year.

This mindset becomes a bit of a problem when one retires and is no longer going off to school at the end of August.  So, how are the Wessely's handling the end of summer and the beginning of the school year?  Well, last night, I watched my husband get down to business and get ready for the really big, important events of any school year:  he downloaded the football game schedule for the upcoming season from his former high school's website onto his electronic calendar.  Phew, now we at least know for sure when the team will be playing.  We haven't given up that tradition.  We will be at Dutch Clark Stadium wearing the black and white and sitting in row 17 whenever the black and white are playing a home game,  just like we always have since 1997 when Jim first became principal of South High School.  The only thing that has changed over the last few years is that my dear husband no longer is "on duty" during the game.  That doesn't mean he sits at my side through the entire game.  He still has to go through the crowd "meeting and greeting" just as he always has.

School starts tomorrow for the teachers.  Jim is going to the opening of the school year luncheon at his old school.  He is going as a representative of the alumni board this year.  He jokingly told the principal, his former AP, that if it weren't for his hair cut, he would attend the faculty meeting in the morning since he misses those so much.  It turns out that principals don't like faculty meetings any better than teachers do.

Today, the day before teachers go back to school, would have been a stressful day for my husband when he was working.  There would be so much to do.  He would no doubt be working very late.  Instead, because he is now retired, he mowed the lawn today.  That is a new activity at our house.  For all the years that he was principal, we hired our lawn mowing duties out.  He even used his new, handy-dandy lawn edger to trim around all the edges of the yard and flower beds.

I had to smile when I heard the garbage truck pull up around noon.  I knew that Jim would be right out there on the curb ready to help the garbage collectors lift and empty our garbage cans.  That is another retirement activity that he always does when he is home on garbage day.  Today, he seemed to take a bit longer on helping the garbage collectors.  When he finally came in the house, I asked what had taken so long.  I half expected that he was inviting the guys in for lunch.  He said he had been visiting with our mail carrier.  Yes, we've developed quite a relationship with her also since we've retired.

My husband keeps quite involved with his former assistant principals.  Every high school principal in this town, where we have four high schools, served as an AP with my husband.  One of the middle school principals is also a former AP.  They call him with funny stories, or to bounce ideas off of him, quite often.  He goes to lunch with them.  He stops by to visit them at school.  He is happily removed from his daily duties, but he also is able to to stay involved in his friendships that have developed from his years of mentoring new leadership while working side by side with those who are now serving high school principalships.

Many wondered how my husband would ever retire.  He worked for 42 years in education.  He was a high school principal for over a decade.  He worked 10 hours a day as a minimum.  It seemed he went to every game, concert, or play that took place during a school year.  One of his former AP's, who is now a principal, recently asked, "Boss, when did you ever sleep?"  His response, "Didn't you ever see the cot in my office?" I used to ask why he didn't just get a cot for his office.  There were times when I picked up dinner, brought it to him between meetings and night activities, and we ate together at the small conference table in that second home of his.

Moving Day - Last Day in Office at SHS

Do you think he parked his car on the street for so many years that they named it after him when he retired?

An amazing thing happened when he retired.  He actually did retire.  He loves retirement.  He loves not having the pressures.  He happily mows the lawn and chit chats with the garbage collectors.  He has been just as successful at retirement as he was at working.  Maybe that is because he could look back on a career filled with many good things and say, "I worked hard and loved my profession.  I have no regrets.  I accomplished more than I set out to do.  I've earned my rest and relaxation.  Now, I'm going to hang it all up, say good-bye, and enjoy the days I have left."  I'm at his side trying to learn from him about being successful with this stage of my life, just as I tried to learn how to be a good educator from him when I was still working.

Many good times were spent wearing this jacket with pride.

Here's to another year of retirement and to another year of not starting out a new school year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

P.j.'s and retirement

Does retirement mean that one stays in one's p.j.'s until noon?  All you retirees out there, I talking to you.  Do you find that the morning is nearly gone, and you are still sporting your pajamas?  My husband and I have even been wondering if p.j.'s are the new "day wear" articles of clothing that one can wear to just about any place on any occasion.  It seems that outfits that looks suspiciously like p.j.'s show up everywhere.

 I'm not admitting to what time of day my dear hubby and I have finally gotten dressed lately.  Let's just say that we treasure our mornings on the back porch.  We head to our comfy porch glider, coffee cup and newspapers in hand, as soon as we roll out of bed anywhere between 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning.  An hour or two later, we are usually still there.  By roughly 9:00 or 9:30, we've drunk our coffee, eaten our breakfast,  read two newspapers, checked our email and facebook accounts via our BlackBerries, admired the roses, commented on the tomatoes, enjoyed the birds seen dipping in the bird bath for a drink or a bath, and thought about actually getting something done.

From my vantage point on the back porch, I can see that I need to deadhead the roses I've admired, trim back the non-blooming delphiniums, pull weeds, or plant the flowers I bought the day before.  While thinking of the tasks that need to be done, I am very tempted at that point to leave the porch, walk to the shed, get my gardening tools, my hat and gardening gloves, and get to work before the nice, cool, morning shaded yard gets hot.  When I say tempted, I mean, I am tempted to just go work in the yard while still clad in my p.j.'s.

Then, the voice of my grandmother, or someone else who taught me that I should dress appropriately when I am out in public, pops into my head.  So far, I've not succumbed to working in the yard in my sleepwear.  I've questioned why I shouldn't.  After all, I used to garden or work in the yard in my bathing suit.  I even have rationalized that gardening in p.j.'s would not offend the neighbors who might see me nearly as much as if I gardened in my bathing suit!

 I've even thought about the woman I read about who lived in Boulder and liked to garden nude.  Her neighbors did not approve.  I haven't considered gardening in the buff, just in my p.j.'s.  So far, my long practiced sense of propriety has won out.  I change into my shorts and t-shirt before I even pull one weed.  I know it is a slippery, downhill slope that leads to never getting out of my p.j.'s until who knows when if I start working outside in them.