I was given the opportunity to share at my Nanny’s funeral today and the following is my testimony to her life – and a life well-lived, it was indeed.
As a child, I had the unique opportunity to come to Ottawa and live with Nanny, Poppy, and Shirley for a significant portion of each summer. As a result, I had the privilege of spending countless hours with Nanny, and I’d like to take the next few moments to share with you some of my fondest memories and personal observations of her character.
First off, Nanny was resilient. She encountered any obstacle that came her way with dignity and with grace. I remember asking her (I was very young at the time) why it was that she had dentures. She told me it was because she was so poor growing up that she and her siblings had only one toothbrush to share so she didn’t get to use one very often. There was no bitterness in her tone when she told me that. It was just the way it was. She accepted that.
Second, Nanny was courageous and brave! She somehow managed to stay at home with four young children while her husband was serving in Israel as a peacekeeper. She made nutritious meals on an incredibly low budget, managed her home, still attended church services every Sunday (with her and her daughters in matching dresses, which she sewed herself), and still found time to teach her children about the love of Jesus.
Nanny. Was. Frugal! Honestly, she could make many meals off a dime (or from all the food she kept in her multiple deep-freezes or cold room storage of canned goods…which she did all herself). I still remember newspapers spread across her kitchen table with the coupon sections cut out. One fond memory that still makes me chuckle is the time she came home from work at lunch and stated that she didn’t feel like cooking – a first for her! She informed me that she had some coupons for Burger King and asked if I would like to go there for lunch together. This was a BIG DEAL. Not only was Nanny willing to eat at a fast-food establishment, but she was also willing to pay to eat there. I remember being in utter shock at her suggestion, but excited, I quickly corrected my eyes which were wide in disbelief and said, “Yes!” What’s even more amazing about this story is that this happened the next day AND the next! By Day 3 I didn’t know what had happened to Nanny or who this woman even was. But I enjoyed those Burger King lunches, dodging Ottawa traffic each day to get there, and after one of those visits, going with her to the park, just walking around, and taking in the sights of the Rideau Canal, hand in hand.
Nanny was a hard worker. I still shake my head in disbelief when I think of how hard she worked, for so many years. I honestly don’t know how she managed to do it all. She cooked three meals a day, found the time and energy to grow and tend a large garden, can all the produce from the garden, hang the laundry on the line to dry, sew dresses and matching outfits, sew on buttons and hem items for her grandkids, work outside the home part-time, still manage to run home on her lunch break to make and serve lunch to Poppy before going back to work in the afternoon, pay the bills, mow the lawn, plant flower beds, and knit a plethora of items, just to spend every second Saturday at CARP – Ottawa’s farmer’s market – to sell her hand-knit creations. I enjoyed spending those mornings with her at the market. Sometimes, she would open her cash box and give me a bit of change to go buy snacks at another vendor’s booth. She may have been frugal – but she was also very generous. Not only with her money, but also with her time. I remember waking up one night just before midnight and, noticing the kitchen light still on, I made my way out to the kitchen just to find her sitting at the table, knitting a dishcloth – a common occurrence. Instead of being bothered by the fact that I was out of bed in the middle of the night, she just asked me if I was hungry and promptly made me a peanut butter and jam sandwich. I ate it while I watched her knit quietly. I asked if she’d be going to bed anytime soon since it was late, and she casually replied that she had about another 10 dishcloths to knit before market the next morning…so she’d be awhile yet. I just assumed that adults didn’t need sleep after that.
Finally, Nanny loved Jesus. And she made Jesus known. She taught Christ and His love to her children and to those around her. This is evident in the lives of her descendants and in the way she treated others. I remember vaguely her expressing frustration one day because a patient she had been assigned to sit with wasn’t receiving the level of care she felt her patient needed or deserved. To Nanny, the situation was unfair and unjust, and she was going to make her thoughts known to whoever it was that was in charge. She gracefully fought for justice when she could. She aimed to show Christ’s love and character to everyone. I distinctly remember seeing her Bible open on the kitchen table (amidst all the coupons) so very often. Before tucking me in at night, she would kneel beside the bed, gently brush her fingertips over my eyelids to help me sleep and would pray with and for me. I’ve never forgotten how loved that simple action made me feel. She was a very good Nanny to me. With fond remembrance, at times I still glide my hands over other sleepy, little eyelids, and I have to say, that trick still seems to work.
Nanny was by no means perfect. She had her faults. But I will always be grateful for the gentle and loving manner in which she treated me. I am forever thankful for the legacy she has left. She loved Jesus. And, if you knew her at all, then you know her life was evident of that.
Did you know that it’s actually possible to feel inextricably happy and sad at the exact same time? It’s definitely possible. I learned that this past week. I “researched” Google to see if there is a word that describes feeling both of those emotions at the same time and my results seemed to come up a bit skewed. The closest word I could find in the English language to describe feeling both happiness and sadness, simultaneously, was: “bittersweet”. However, I don’t find that word actually provides me with the satisfaction I require today. It just doesn’t seem to convey what I feel…precisely. Google’s mixed results also suggested the words, “saudade” – a Portugese term referring to “a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for something or someone that one cares for and/or loves”, and “elatasad”, which apparently means, “feeling sad but also happy and excited”. I don’t know if the Oxford dictionary recognizes those terms or not, but frankly, I don’t care. They’re exactly how I’m feeling right now, so I’ll go with them.
As you most likely already know, there are seven stages to the grieving process. You also are probably aware that those stages rarely are experienced in any order…and those stages are likely to repeat themselves at any given time. The seven stages of grief don’t care one iota about order. They just hit you hard, usually when you least expect them. I won’t bore you with providing an exegesis on those seven stages, rather, for the sake of some brevity, I’ll assume you know most of them.
Anger. I’m so angry that I don’t even know what to type at this very moment. You know it. You’ve felt it. I mean REALLY felt it! There have been times where the anger you’ve felt has made you want to vomit, to shake, to scream profanity into the freezing cold, dark night. And then…you realize there is nothing you can do. So you just stare. At nothing really. You just feel…empty. Angry. Unbelievably depressed. Wondering if there is something, anything, you could have done to help prevent the current events that are swirling inside your mind. But that’s just it. You couldn’t. There is/was nothing you could do. And that’s when you stand in your friend’s empty house, making sure the pipes haven’t frozen in -40 degree weather, staring at the emptiness around you, recognizing that the emptiness you see before you, matches the empty and gaping hole left in your heart. They’ve gone. And no amount of questioning or re-running conversations in your mind will bring them back. And there you are amidst all the “empty”, left to figure out how to grieve it all.
For me, my anger and despair arose this week from saying goodbye to a friend. Not through death, but from a long-distance move. You might think that I’m being overly dramatic. “Your friend moved away? Seriously? Anger and grief because of that?” I hear you. And something inside me snarls that I know nothing of real grief. But the real me knows that I do. We could discuss my childhood friend dying in a horrific and tragic car accident when he was only 5 years old…before I could say goodbye. We could discuss watching my father leave my childhood home while I begged him to come back…before I could say goodbye. (He didn’t.) We could discuss the time I booked my plane ticket in the middle of university finals to fly to Ontario…to say goodbye…to my grandfather, just to be informed the next morning he passed away. I made it for the funeral. I have a profound hatred for goodbyes. I wonder why….
But, we don’t need to get into all that. I do know grief. In my own way. And you know yours. But here’s the real thing: My anger/grief/emptiness/whatever you want to call it, doesn’t stem from the saying goodbye…this time. It stems from the reason my friend had to leave.
I’ve said goodbye to two friends in the last three years due to very unjust and unfair circumstances. This one? Abuse. Does that make you cringe? I hope it does. Because of abuse that had gone on for way too long, my friend and her husband had to pack up their family, their belongings, their whole life, and move away. Her husband quit his job and they are moving from a beautiful, new home to a bat and mice-infested home far away. Why? Her words to me were, “Because it’s better than abuse”. That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I’m devastated. It’s so unfair and unjust. If I’m this angry, how must my friend feel? She’s the one having to say goodbye to everything. I’m angry, not only for me, but also for her.
“Every heart has its secret sorrows which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The burden of grief weighs heavily, doesn’t it? This past year has afforded me the privilege to provide care and a listening ear to two women who have lost their husbands. I’ve had the opportunity to sit with both ladies – to listen to their hearts, to hear some of their grief. And that has been an honor for me. I don’t take those opportunities lightly. I appreciate them. Those moments are sacred. They remind me that our life here is short. Our time is not unlimited. Our relationships and friendships do not and cannot last forever. At least, not here on earth.
But THAT is where we have hope! Our hope lies in Jesus Christ – the One who comforts us and grieves with us. The One who knows grief intimately. The One who said goodbye to the riches and beauty and comfort of His heavenly home, to take on human form, to give us eternal life – forgiveness of sins and the hope and assurance of heaven, where we will never have to say goodbye ever again.
That is why I can smile tonight. That is why I can feel grief and inextricable happiness at the same time. Not only because of the hope we have of heaven and no more “goodbyes”, but also because I love my friend dearly and desire the best for her. And right now, the best thing for her is to move away from her current situation to a more peaceful one. When you love someone, it hurts to say goodbye, but you also can’t help but rejoice to see them encounter freedom and peace in their lives. You rejoice in all happiness for them and their new-found home and hope. That’s just what friends do.
When was the last time you experienced it? Grief, that is.
The sad reality of life here on this planet is that we all do and will experience grief more often than we would ever desire to. But…God is gracious. And yes, I may have to keep reminding myself of that fact (every day), but it’s true. I won’t, even for a moment, pretend to have answers for you on the topic of grief, how long it will last, when it might overwhelm you, or what constitutes the appropriate situation to cause grief, because we cannot be the judge of one another’s grief…ever. I would argue that grief is sacred. It’s a process that must be honored and respected by all and never given a time frame.
I believe it was Dr. Seuss who penned, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” There is profound truth to those words. It seems like just yesterday that a co-worker of mine told me (when discovering I was moving to my current home-town) that his nephew’s wife lived there and that I should really meet her because we’d get along great. I nodded and agreed, having no clue how I’d actually get in touch with or meet this woman, but God did. I found myself sitting in a very random group of ladies one evening when I overheard someone whisper that the woman sitting directly across from me was “so-and-so’s nephew’s wife”. Immediately, I terrified her by excitedly asking her to confirm that remark and by stating how I was told we were supposed to meet and be friends. Thankfully, the surprise and fright that I caused her didn’t last, and by God’s grace, we developed a beautiful friendship over the last few years. One of trust, mutual respect, and love. Although I hated saying goodbye to her this week, I’m profoundly grateful and thankful for the time God allowed us to be friends. And by His grace, we will continue that friendship with the wonderful use of technology. A blessing. Absolutely.
For now, my heart hurts. And that’s ok. Because I know that God is not only with me, but He’s also with her in this move, guiding her steps, filling her with His peace, and being her Providence. And He does that for each of us when we ask Him to. Regardless of our circumstances, regardless of our current pain or grief or heartache, He is our peace. Lay your head on your pillow tonight, resting in the knowledge that He will provide for you, that He is your Peace…in every situation you face. Rest in the hope we have of heaven: a place where we won’t have to say goodbye ever again.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
I must have only been 10 or 11, but I clearly remember sitting on the floor of a friend’s van (we could do that 20 years ago if the seat belts were all occupied) and one of the children wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t get it. We had just left his cousin’s house, not far from his own. He could visit anytime he wanted; he could see them again the next day. WHY was he crying? Let me re-phrase: Why was he SCREAMING? He happened to be sitting on the seat directly parallel to my spot on the floor, so my left ear received the full extent of his piercing, screaming sobs. My eyes were wide. I stared straight ahead, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this 4-ish year old wouldn’t shut up. In only a matter of, I’m sure, a few seconds, I could no longer hear my own thoughts, and I lost it.
“(Insert child’s name), SHUT UP!” I shouted. It only seemed logical to shout so he could hear me over his own screaming. Immediately, both his mother and my mother shouted my name, scolding me. It’s somewhat humorous looking back on the situation now, but it also serves as the earliest memory I have of “too much input”, a phrase my psychiatrist terms, “ADHD”.
A large part of ADHD, for me, is the complete inability to process my current surroundings/situations in the same manner or at the same rate that most people can. For example, most people I know can drive a car and listen to a screaming child in the backseat, simultaneously. Heck, some people can even do it while carrying on a conversation with another adult or listening to incessant, repetitive, and very annoying children’s music. But I can’t. No, really! I’m incapable of processing those things. My brain turns to fuzz. Imagine, if you will, using the old “bunny-ears” antenna and the channel you wanted just wouldn’t receive or come in clearly. The channel would be an annoyingly loud, scratchy sound and the screen would flicker a black/white/grey mess. That is what my brain does when more than 2-3 things are happening around me at once. I don’t “recept”, or process. I shut down. That’s when anxiety takes over.
Skip back to age 8 or 9. My head hung over the toilet bowl while I vomited. No stomach flu. Just “nerves”. I knew my dad was on his way to come pick me up for the 9 hour drive to his parent’s acreage for the week…over the Christmas holiday…yet again. It wasn’t that those visits were terrible; sometimes they were OK. But let’s just say my fondest memories of those visits were the late night cups of tea and endless games of Skip-Bo (or Scrabble) I played with my Gramma. To this day, I don’t know why I was so nervous for those trips, nor do I care to over-analyze the “why” behind it, but I believe that trip in particular accounts for my earliest recollection of anxiety.
Fast-forward to today. I have good days but lately, it seems, that the bad days tend to be more often than not. “Bad days” are the ones filled with anxiety. So much so, that the simple thought of driving to the city (only 20 minutes away) is enough to keep me at home. Even when we are out of the grocery essentials, we stay home. And what if the kids don’t behave picture-perfectly while in public? We should stay home.
Let me paint the picture clearly for you: My children do get along sometimes, but for the most part, each wants what the other has and when they can’t have it, a melt-down begins, usually by both children, crying or screaming at each other. Hair has been pulled, faces have been hit, skin has been pinched, tears have rolled. On a good day, I can process what is happening and put a stop to it immediately. But on the bad days, all it takes is for that one blood-curdling scream to be voiced, and mommy loses it. Again, the only logical thing to do is shout over the noise in order to be heard. “STOP SCREAMING! STOP PINCHING! DON’T PULL HAIR! STOP PUSHING! PUT IT BACK! LET GO, NOW!” My almost-daily vocabulary. It’s exhausting…and loud. When you stay at home all day, every day, shouting the same things over and over, you tend to get…anxious. To keep my sanity and to keep the peace (and quiet), I have allowed (too much) t.v. and screen time over the past few weeks. Let’s just call that a coping method. But you see, in today’s society, you can’t allow your kids to watch even a small amount of television without feeling some measure of guilt, because every mother knows (and has probably been told a few times) that the “American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges parents to strictly limit screen time…It will fry their brains, they aren’t ready to handle it developmentally”, bla, bla, bla. Yes, we know! So even in our attempt to get some guilt-free sanity, there’s still an inkling of guilt. It never really goes away, so neither does our insanity…or anxiety.
It’s been in our “too much screen time” weeks that we have had a re-surge of the movie, Frozen. Since hearing Elsa’s song, Let It Go, when first released in 2013, I’ve often wished I could be like her. For the few of you who haven’t seen the film, let me paraphrase: Elsa has magical powers. She turns things to ice. Get it? Frozen? Anyway, she can use her powers for fun and for good, but when she uses her powers (or when they escape her) out of fear, damage occurs. She kept her powers hidden for years until they escaped from her (out of fear) on her Coronation Day, in front of everyone. So she fled. When she’s leaving all she’s ever known to be “free”, she willingly uses her powers and sees what she’s actually capable of doing – creating beautiful winter-wonderlands, a magical ice-palace, Olaf (a snowman which comes to life), etc., and all the while, she sings the famous song, Let It Go. For some reason her words resonate with me:
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the Queen The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried
Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know Well, now they know
It’s funny how some distance Makes everything seem small And the fears that once controlled me Can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
Chorus: Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on The cold never bothered me anyway
I’ve always wished I could “let it go” when it comes to things that have caused seemingly unwarranted anxiety, worry, or stress, but apparently I don’t posses the same powers as Elsa, nor can I simply run away from my responsibilities, become a hermit, and do what I want, when I want…although I have certainly tried at times.
Recently, I was thinking over how I have allowed my two-year-old (who throws a massive temper tantrum the very millisecond he doesn’t get what he wants) to control my life. I don’t go into town because I don’t want to listen to the screaming fit that occurs when he drops his teddy bear, gets mad about it, so I almost drive off the highway to retrieve it and hand it back to him, he gets mad, throws it down again, and screams and cries about that fact all over again. Because…I can’t be in a vehicle with a screaming child. Therefore, I don’t go to the city. I don’t dare volunteer at my daughter’s school. My social anxiety certainly plays into that, but I think the real reason is I avoid it is, chances are, my son would have a tantrum, and we would end up leaving anyway…so why go through the hassle, have the glares or stares of other parents and teachers, just to walk out in shame?
A few days ago, while driving to the city – a situation that causes anxiety to begin with – along with my two children (who were getting antsy in the backseat), I was already incredibly anxious about an upcoming health appointment – the necessary reason for the trip. I knew I wasn’t processing well that morning and needed to focus on driving (Saskatoon drivers…they’re crazy), so I popped in the only kid’s CD that I can handle, which also happens to be my kids’ favourite (and therefore, keeps them quiet-ish). The first song came on and immediately the fighting subsided. They started “seat-dancing” to the beat, and I started singing along (it’s weird…but sometimes that actually helps me to focus on my task at hand). Then it hit me. All of my anxiety had dissipated. It was gone! My situation hadn’t really changed though. I was still driving in the city, the kids were still making noise (thankfully happy noises at this point), and I was still going to a dreaded appointment. What changed?
Take a listen. Seriously! Do it! (This is the song to which we were bouncing along.)
I love Brad’s music (and I’m proud to say we attended the same college years ago) but this song in particular really changes your focus, doesn’t it? It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, because when you start praising the Lord even in the midst of your circumstances, no room is left for anything else. It was at that moment that some of Elsa’s Let It Go played in my head, “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all“. Silly mommy. My two-year-old hasn’t been controlling me, my actions, or even my re-actions. It’s been fear.
Anxiety is driven by fear. Fear of the what-if. Fear of the what-if-not. Fear of the can’t. Fear of success. Fear of unsuccess. Fear of the past, present, and sometimes, even the future.
Fear. It truly is crippling, isn’t it?
The funny part about Elsa is that, only a short while after running away to “freedom”, she found out that she really wasn’t free at all. When she fled, she left a wake of destruction. Her hometown was covered in ice and snow. Her people were freezing and starving. When told to come back and fix the problem, she refused (out of fear), stating she didn’t know how. She only knew fear and fear was her enemy.
In the end, she almost killed her sister because of her powers…because she allowed fear to take control. The only way to break the negative impact of her powers was “true love”…of course, because it’s Disney, right? But instead of a magical “true-love’s kiss”, only an act of true love was required. Even though Anna was dying, she used her last ounce of strength to save Elsa’s life…the action of true love.
John 15:13 (NIV)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
In that moment, the sum of Elsa’s fears stopped. In that moment, the swirling snow stopped. The howling winds stopped. Everyone just stopped. And Elsa wept. Her worst fear had come to fruition. She thought Anna had died. Only in her burden of grief and despair, in the absence of fear, did Anna slowly begin to breathe, and the world around them slowly began to thaw, because “only an act of true love could thaw a frozen heart“.
1 John 4:18 (Msg) There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.
When our focus shifts to be on Him alone, the author of “well-formed love”, there simply is no room for fear. Focusing on Him creates that distance where everything else, the little matters of life, and sometimes even the big ones, become a lot more clear. “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.”
Philippians 4:13 (Msg)
Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
Granted, there are times when my anxiety will take over, or should I say, fear? But acknowledging the fear and asking God for His help to take a stand against it, can make a powerful and impactful difference in one’s life. So that’s precisely what I did. Even on a “low-processing” day, shortly after having the stomach flu, I was determined that fear was not going to have the upper hand in my life on that particular day. I decided to pack up the kids, drive into the city, while it was snowing, and pick up an order from the bookstore – a task I had put off accomplishing for days…due to fear. But, I did it! And the kids may have screamed at each other for a bit in the back seat, and the snow may have been blowing across the highway, and my son may have had another disastrous diarrhea diaper in the bookstore, and I may have even met my husband for lunch (around naptime), and my son may even have had a massive meltdown when I went to order my lunch, and I may have encountered the stares of fellow patrons, and I may have had to take him outside the restaurant for a stern “talking-to”, and I may have had a crappy lunch when it finally did arrive, and I may have had cranky kids on the way home. But, I did it. (Insert sigh of relief and slight smile) I acknowledged my fear. I took a stand against it, and I would say, for the most part anyway, I kept my cool. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t even enjoyable. But it was an absolute refusal to allow fear to control my life. And it was only possible with (my daily dosage of medication, and) a full reliance and focus on Him. The results were amazing. My attitude and even my general, daily anxiety had changed for the remainder of that day. I was happier, more content, more confident, more fully alive.
Anxiety will take it’s toll on me again, I’m sure, and because it is a mental health disorder, there will be days where I will feel completely incapable of controlling the fears that drive my anxiety. And on those days, I might have to stay home. But you can be sure that the next day will be met with sheer determination from the moment I awake, to acknowledge the fear, to put my foot down, and take control of it, because my focus will be on Him. And if you find yourself ever in need of a little help in that area, be sure to crank Brad’s song and get praising the Lord. It will change your focus from fear to instead, the Perfect Love, Who casts out all fear.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.
Because He lives…I can face tomorrow. Because He lives…all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because He lives.