Our girls boarded the bus yesterday and headed off to start a new school year. While I am sad summer has come to an end, I'm truly looking forward to this new beginning. For the past several months, I have been feeling prompted to share our family's story here on this blog. In previous posts, I've given glimpses of it, but I feel it's time to put it all out there--our losses, our struggles, and our hope. Why? Everyone experiences loss and grief: death of a loved one, loss of a treasured family pet, divorce, deployment, abuse, loss of possessions, moving from all that is familiar, and list goes on and on. Though we all endure loss somewhere along the road, we may cope differently. There are many families who are struggling to make it through the storm. While this blog is geared toward Girl Scout troop leaders, I feel it's appropriate to share my family's experiences here since we leaders are connected with people in our troops, schools, and throughout the community. I am willing to be vulnerable if our story can help one person.
In July of 2009, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. She lost her 21-month battle at the age of 58 in April of 2011. For years, my father-in-law had been struggling with medical issues of his own. He passed away at the age of 62 in November of 2014. During this period, there were many days when my husband needed to split his time between home, his job, and caring for his terminally-ill parents. I needed to stay strong for him and for our family, keeping everything as normal as possible for our kids. Fortunately we were blessed to be surrounded by amazing family and friends who were always there to help. Though my in-laws died when they were relatively young, their deaths were a blessing because they were no longer suffering. My husband and I eventually came to the realization that they were never going get better. We knew it. Our children did not. It's important to note that in the years between the time they passed away, we lost my uncle and a dear neighbor to cancer. I've labeled the past six years the "Season of Sorrow," and life has been challenging, overwhelming, and exhausting at times. While the physical demands on our time have decreased following their deaths, the mental, emotional, and spiritual demands on us have only increased--increased to the point that we had to reach out to professionals for help.
Though our family has shared a million happy times together, a loved one has been terminally ill for as long as our kids can remember. Throughout this "Season of Sorrow," we have maintained open communication with our daughters. We are followers of Jesus, and we believe Biblical scripture to be true. My husband and I prayed with and for our girls, and we asked family and friends to keep us in their prayers. We read scripture with them, and we read books about death and God's Plan. After losing two grandparents, grief manifested itself differently for each of our daughters. They both began to worry, and these worries developed into unnatural fears and anxieties. They struggled to adjust to a "new normal"--life without Grandma and Grandpa. When their anxieties began to interfere with daily life, my husband and I knew they needed to hear these messages from someone other than us. Dear friends of ours referred us to a child psychologist practicing at a Christian counseling center that focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit through cognitive behavioral therapy. We've been attending sessions for several months now. Sometimes it feels like we take one step forward and two steps back, but overall, our girls are making progress.
I will admit I have been struggling with feelings of failure through all of this. I mean, I'm a stay-at-home mom. It's my job to make everything okay, and my kids aren't okay. My heart breaks for them, but I can't fix it this time. I've learned through the counseling sessions that my feelings of failure are a belief--they are not the truth. Though we are meeting with a child psychologist, I am healing along with our children.
On page 104 in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom wrote
Our daughters' hearts have already been broken. As their parents, we are not going to allow anxiety to shatter their future. I don't know why our loving and powerful God has allowed this suffering. I do know that we can use our experiences to help others who are struggling. I invite you to check back soon. In my next post I will share some helpful tools we've learned during these sessions to help deal with stressful situations. I am not a psychologist or a counselor, but I am a mom who loves my family. By writing this post, I'm reaching out to others who are suffering. I encourage you to schedule an appointment to talk with someone. There are trusted medical professionals who can help. In the meantime, prayer is powerful, and I encourage you to take your concerns to God. There's no reason to live in darkness."All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair."
Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Update: We finished our counseling sessions in December 2015. I am so very pleased to report that both girls are doing wonderfully well. When they are faced with adverse or unfamiliar situations that in the past would have caused great anxiety, they are using the tools they learned to deal with these stresses in a healthy manner. Now that we are finally on the other side of this storm, I am giving the glory to God. I feel like sharing this story is the final chapter in our healing. I want others to see that there is hope, peace, and joy in suffering.
Thank you for reading.