Tuesday, March 15

Three Months Down... Several Hundred To Go

Three months ago yesterday I got to hear my Dad's voice for the last time.  Everyday I close my eyes and replay his words in my head over and over so I can make sure that I never forget any of it.  I want to remember the tone, his inflection, his breath, his emotion.  I never want to forget those last minutes I got to have with my dad.

I love this picture of us at my 23rd Birthday Party... He was the best dad, ever. 

The 14th has become a dreaded number for our family.  It marks a day of intense pain and grief.  As I've stated before, we've decided to make the 14th of every month a family day in order to continue to grow together as a family and to move through this together.  It has been a wonderful tradition that I really look forward to upholding.

This past weekend was a difficult one for me.  Friday night our long-time, family friends, the Cooks, spent their last night in Texas.  We drove out to Grapevine and met up with the Cooks at Fireside Pies for some pizza.  It was great sitting at this big table with so many people that we love.  After dinner we headed to their hotel and got to do a little swimming with the kids.  They have four beautiful children that I am completely in love with.  2 handsome boys and 2 incredible gorgeous daughters.  The night flew by though and before I knew it we were saying our goodbyes.  As I hugged Bekah tears welled up in my eyes, she and her husband, Josh, were the ones that gave Josh and I our premarital counseling.  I've known them since I was a young teen and they have made such an impact on my life.  Saying goodbye to them was incredibly difficult.  Bekah looked at me and said, "Ya know, Nic, Josh and I were thinking, why did God move us to Texas for these past three years?  What is it that he wanted us here for, and we realized it was so that we could have three more years with your dad."  I couldn't hold back my tears because I knew she was right.  Had they have stayed in Tennessee they would have been one of the many who had to receive a distant phone call on that dreadful night.  As hard as it is to see them go we know that God has greater things in store for their family and I continue to love and miss them until we get to be reunited again.

Nikki flew in from California Friday night and was able to spend time with everyone before they left as well.  On Saturday I spent the day at Mom's house just goofing around.  Athena and I had a great time playing "Horse" outside with our basketball.  I realized that I am not very graceful, shocker, and that Athena has some half way decent skills.  But no one can do a granny, in between the legs, shot like I can.  While we were outside the ice cream man drove up.  I cannot remember the last time that I got ice cream from one of these places... It was really fun.  Mom, Bug, Nikki and I sat on the curb eating our treats and smiling at the beautiful day.  It really was amazing.  That night Mom, Nicki and Bug came over for dinner and desert and we played Settlers of Catan.  Kevin was even able to come and join us for the game.

Sunday was a relaxing day for the most part.  Sunday morning I woke up at 6:20 (which was REALLY 5:20 with this whole spring forward deal) and got ready for church.  I sang in both services so it was a long morning, but very fun.  I was so flustered after the first service, however, as the screen with the words in the back of the sanctuary froze during one of the songs I was leading... The second verse came up and my mind went completely blank.  I froze.  I felt completely embarrassed.  It happens, though... right? Haha.  Besides, it's not about me!  Everything we do sounds beautiful to the Lord, even when we forget the words. :)

I had rehearsal again Sunday night and then enjoyed the rest of the evening at home with Josh.  He spend the whole day ironing his shirts (how lucky am I?) while I sat on the couch clearing the DVR of all of my episodes of Bones.  :) Quite relaxing.

Last night, as it was the 14th, we all met up at Uncle Julios for dinner.  The whole family, even Nikki. Dinner was incredible, I think most of us ended up with the Carne Asada and some delicious margaritas. After dinner the girls went to mom's for another game of Catan in which Melanie kicked all of our butts.

I have to say, with everything that is going on in my life, the loss of dad, dealing with other daily issues, some things going on with close friends.... I still feel incredibly blessed.  I have a great job.  A husband who loves me, an incredible, reliable, close-nit family and some amazing friends.  It is hard to complain when you look on the bright side of things.

Tonight, because of spring break, there is no group counseling.  I'm pretty bummed as I have come to look forward to the evenings at the Warm Place.  But I have been taking time out of my day to focus on my grief and have even been writing more letters to Dad.  Because there is no group I get to watch Josh's softball game tonight.  His dad has joined the team as well, so it is a family affair.  I'm looking forward to watching the guys play.  Hopefully I'll get some good pictures and some video as well. :)

I really appreciate all of you that take the time to read these random ramblings of mine.  It is just my way of getting the clutter out of my brain so I can think a little more clearly, but I feel so loved knowing that so many of you read and support us.  You all bless me more than you could possibly know.  I am so thankful.  :)

Thursday, March 10

Session 5 and a Rough Week

This week started off a little rough.  On Monday I received a copy of Dad's autopsy report.  There were a lot of questions that I still had about what happened that day and I needed them answered for closure.  Little did I know how in depth this report would be.  10 very vivid pages of description.  10.  I got the report while I was still at work and it was really difficult to finish out the day, but I did.  Later that night Mom and Athena came over and we spent some much needed time with one another.

The report was unimaginatively difficult to read.  It painted a picture so vivid and I have not been able to shake it from my mind.  I want to remember Dad as he was before; smiling, laughing, loving, taking pictures, napping on the couch, taking me on dates, and being the best man he could be, which was pretty dern good if you ask me.  I'm sure that someday I will be able to see that, and only that.  But this week that has not been the case.

I had my 5th session of group counseling on Tuesday.  It was the smallest class yet, only 4 of us showed up that night.  Next week is spring break (seriously, what is spring break? I sure don't get one) so we will not be meeting that week.  Our opening question was, in lieu of next week's absence of class, what are you going to do to take the time to sit down and focus on your grief?  I had no idea.  I've come to really look forward to Tuesday nights and I'm really sad that we wont be meeting next week.  I jokingly said that I would just show up and cry on the front porch - that was immediately discouraged. Haha.  But I said that I want to do things that relax me so I can focus, I want to continue with my journaling and work on the list of things I am needing in order to gain closure on his death.

Next they passed out journals.  We were instructed to write a letter to the person we lost.  It didn't need to be about anything specific... just write to them as you would talk to them right now.  I wrote three pages.  *SHOCKER* Afterward they asked us if there was any specific theme to our writings.  Mine jumped all over the place; I miss you, I'm angry at John but I don't want to be and I want him to find the Lord and find forgiveness through Him, I hope you're still proud of me now that you can look down on me and see all of my demons, there is so much I need to tell you, so much unfinished business, the house feels empty now that you are gone, I miss your laugh, I miss your smell, I miss your hand on mine, I miss your heartbeat, I miss your eyes.... etc...  it opened up an avenue for them to ask a lot of questions that were really difficult for me to answer.  As I talked through my choking throat and teary eyes I responded to one of their questions, "Do you think your dad would still be proud of you now?"  I know he is.  I know that no matter how much of my life he can see he would still be proud of me.  "What do you think your dad would want for your life now?"  He would want me to lean into the Lord, to ask God for comfort, direction, peace.  It was rough.  Rough, but good.  I'll definitely be missing it next week.

Yesterday was especially difficult for me as well, I can't figure out why but I was an emotional wreck.  I composed myself enough to get to the church for pre-K choir and was exhausted as I sat in the room waiting for the kids to show up.  I had 8 kids last night, one of the biggest groups in a while.  At the start of class we were all sitting around a table coloring pages that spoke about how God loves you and me.  The little girls started talking about Disney World, I sat between two of them and said, "Oh I've never been!  But I hope that someday, when I have kids of my own, that I'll be able to go!"  The sweet girl to my left looked up at me with her big, sparkly brown eyes and innocently said, "Well you have a daddy!" I smiled through my sadness and said;
"Well, no sweetheart I don't have a daddy."
She looks at me confused...
"I did have a daddy."
"What happened?"
"He died."
She looks up at me with sad eyes, now the entire table's attention was on me.  As I sat there squatted down looking at them I had to keep my composure.  Another little one chimed in:
"Where did he die?"
I choked for a moment, realizing I couldn't explain to a 4 year old that my perfectly healthy 48 year old dad took his own life.  I quickly responded,
"He died at work."
"What happened?"
"He was ready to be with Jesus..."
"He was old wasn't he?"
I laughed, thinking, that is probably the only type of death these precious children have seen or heard about...
"He was older, yes.  But he was ready to be with Jesus, and now he is in Heaven and someday I will get to see him again."
The conversations were moved into a different topic as class started.  It was the first time I had to tell a child about losing my dad.  I think I handled it pretty decently, but inside my heart was crushed.  These kids are so full of life and happiness, I miss those days where the only type of grieving you had was if you lost a pet gold fish.  Boy how things change as you get older.

I'm VERY happy that today is Thursday.  One day closer to Friday :).  Nikki comes in again this weekend, she will be here tomorrow actually!  And I am really looking forward to her hugs and smiles.  Our very close family friends will be moving back to Tennessee this weekend so tomorrow night we will be spending time with them and saying our "see you laters."

Needless to say, I am really looking forward to the weekend, to a break from reality and some good quality time with my family.  Please continue to pray that we all stay strong through this horrific time, that we all lean into our God and find our strength and peace through Him and not down any other type of avenue.  It is so easy to take advantage of a situation like this and fall into bad habits.  I pray that this doesn't happen for my family.

This Sunday I am leading two songs in the early service.  Both are absolutely beautiful... One in particular has spoken to me this week.  I'll end with its beautiful lyrics.

No mountain, no valley 
No gain or loss we know
Could keep us from Your love

No sickness, no secret
No chain is strong enough
To keep us from Your love
To keep us from Your love

How high, how wide
No matter where I am
Healing is in Your hands
How deep, how strong
Now by Your grace I stand
Healing is in Your hands

Our present, our future
Our past is in Your hands
We’re covered by Your blood
We’re covered by Your blood

In all things, we know that
We are more than conquerors
You keep us by Your love

Tuesday, March 8

Celebrations of Life

One of my absolute, tip of the top, best friends turned 25 at the end of February.  In typical fashion we all got together to celebrate her life.  Jami Lynn Gilkerson has been one of my best friends now for over 6 years.  We were roommates during my last year of college and we've been super close ever since.

For her birthday she wanted to go out to dinner with her close friends and then go out dancing afterward.  Since I live so far from everyone I drove up early to spend a little extra time catching up with Jami, then we both got ready for the night together.  Sometimes the getting ready part can be more fun than the going out part. I love when that happens. :)

Once Kristi got to their apartment we all loaded up in the car and headed towards Cool River in Irving where we met up with the rest of the group.  We sat down to a delicious dinner and enjoyed the evening deep in conversations all across the table.  It was really nice seeing everyone.  Dinner ended so late that I ended up passing on the going out after part and headed back home, but I really enjoyed my time celebrating my lovely friend.

Here's to another wonderful year, Jami!  I love you bunches and bunches!!!

Wednesday, March 2

Session 4

Last night was my fourth group counseling session.  My heart was pounding out of my chest when I walked into the room this time.  I think because last week was so difficult for me, I was having a lot of anxiety about what the night would have in store.  As I walked in, 2 minutes before 7:00 the group moderator says, "oh, we were just talking about you!"  My heart pounded even harder... I am not sure why I get such terrible anxiety.  

I've struggled with anxiety my entire life and up until last year was able to overcome it with self treatment and lots of prayer.  After a big episode and an awful panic attack last year I was put on medication to  help treat my day to day anxiety.  It is the same medication my Dad was on, I'm tellin ya we were wired the same. :)  Anyway, all of that to say its been very helpful until the past week or so.  I've been having bouts of really terrible anxiety right before bed and whenever I'm in a large group of people.  It's really frustrating.  My heart will start to beat out of my chest, my breathing becomes strained - almost to the point of choking and my mind races like a freight train.  The sad thing is most of the time there is no reason for it.    Anyway... All of that to say, I've felt a little overwhelmed and high strung, not to mention exhausted from a lack of sleep.  So I went into the session trying to leave all of that at the door.

Our activity for the night was an interesting one.  It was called sand art.  We were each given a large tray into which they poured some sand.  We spread the sand out and drew a line down the center from top to bottom with our fingers.  They then proceeded to pour out two large tubs of toys into the center of the room.  I'm sitting here on the floor thinking, what in the world are we doing?  How is this going to help with my grief?  I didn't come here to make crafts and play with toys. 

He instructed us to pick an object for each member of our family that described or resembled them before the death of our loved one.  Including the loved one who has passed.  After the left side was finished we were instructed to pick another object for each person to describe or resemble them after the death.  There was quite a large group last night so you can imagine how long this process took.  It's difficult to try and pick a toy or an object to describe someone.  After everyone finished we went around the room showing each object and explaining who it was for and why.  Then we went back around the circle and did the same for the after death objects.  

It was really interesting to see the different objects used and the different placements of the objects on the sand.  Some had up to 20 pieces on their tray, some had as little as 6.  I will describe my tray... But for the sake of respecting my family members I will only describe the objects I used for myself and for my dad.  

On the left side (before death) I found a blond polly pocket doll (probably a toy from McDonald's).  When it was my turn to explain my object I said that before my dad died I was happy go lucky.  I was everyone's friend and always looking to the bright side of things.  Always the optimist never the pessimist.  (Ok maybe never is not the right word, but most of the time :) ) I was high spirited, smiling, energetic and loved being with friends and family. 

It was really difficult picking an object out for my dad.  I saw a tree and a bike and thought yeah those were things he liked... but they didn't describe who he was.  Then I saw these little feet.  They looked like the glow in the dark stars you put on  your ceiling, ya know the flat slightly green look?  Anyway, I saw them and instantly thought of Dad.  I told the group that I picked the feet because my dad was the person we all looked up to, the person we all strived to be more like.  He was the leader of our family emotionally, financially and spiritually.  I wanted to walk in his footsteps.  We all did.  They fit perfectly.  

Then I had to describe the object I had picked for the right side of the tray for myself (after death). I saw this broken glass box with a handle on the top, it looked like at one point it was a little clear carrier for a my little pony or some sort of fast food restaurant toy.  I put it together so that it didn't look broken.  Then I described it... After my dads death I feel like a shell of who I was.  I still feel strong, like the glass that makes up the walls of this box, but I also feel very fragile... and then broke the box down.  I said that my faith has kept me strong, knowing that I have God to lean on and to give me comfort and strength but at the same time I am empty inside.  My heart is shattered and I am clueless on how to pick up the pieces and put it back together.   I know that the future is bright, and I do not want to let my dad's death define who I am.  But right now, 11 weeks have passed and I am still this shell.  I have a difficult time being myself in large groups, I find my anxiety levels spiked for no reason at all.  I feel like there is definitely a drastic change in who I am as compared to who I was.  It may only be evident to some, and that is okay... but those who know me- Really and truly know me - they can see a difference.  I definitely feel a difference.

I don't necessarily try to put on a smile or fake being happy.  There are times where I do feel it is necessary but for the most part I wear my emotions on my sleeve, my shirt, my pants, my shoes, my face.... Everywhere :). Looking back on last night I am trying to find meaning in the activity.  Trying to find out the relevance to how it relates to my journey of healing and grieving.  Right now I am still not quite sure.  I realize that my entire family has changed.  No one is the same as they were before we lost Daddy.  

Being forced to talk about the "tough stuff" has its pros and cons.  It has really helped to talk about it, get it off of my chest.  But at the same time it forces you to go through the grieving process.  So naturally there are a lot of rough moments throughout the week.  I know it's a little backwards but I'll end this post with our group introduction from last night.

We were asked to say our name, who died, and then to choose a color that best describes our feelings about the death, about our grief.  It was an odd question.  How can I put my emotions into a color?  Especially emotions so scattered.  I ended up saying my color was a mixture of grey and red.  Grey because things seem hazy, foggy... I feel a little lost and am finding it difficult to see through to the other side.  Red was new for me last night.  Actually it just started this week.  Anger.  Not anger towards my dad.  I am not mad at him for what he did, I cannot judge him for his actions, it is not my place.  I love him and want to pay him every respect that he so rightfully deserves.  I am angry with the situation.  I am very upset that we still do not have a lot of details about his death.  Lockheed is a wonderful company and I would never slander their name.  My dad worked for them for 25 years and I am very thankful for that.  I am however really frustrated that we are not being updated on the process of what is happening to his boss.  I am angry that there is no closure.  I am angry that I feel like things are being hidden and kept secret from us.  We are his family... The people who knew him best, we deserve to know every detail.  Unfortunately, as a government run entity, Lockheed can only tell us so much.  And this, this makes me angry.  I am praying for this anger to fade.  Trying to give it to God.  His hands are infinitely large and can hold even the heaviest of emotions and tragedies.  As a human though, I want to cling to these feelings and bask in my anger and sadness.   Unfortunately,  if I continue to do so I will never move past where I am right now.  My dad would not have that.  :)  

So I continue down this road, whatever you want to call it, and pray that things continue to get better.  I will never get my dad back.  I have to stop wishing for it.  Today I sit here at my desk feeling a little glimmer of hope.  I know that its a long road but I am resting in the knowledge that I WILL get to see my daddy again someday.  Most of the time that is not enough for me, I am selfish and I want him now... but the choice was not mine to make.  So now I make the choice to live my life the best I can, follow the path that God has laid out for me and look forward to that day we meet again.  It will be a beautiful, wonderful, glorious day.