love Posts

Being a Friend When Someone Has Experienced a Loss

Being_A_Friend

When Judy and I lost our 5 ½-year-old son Kyle, we were shocked and numb for several weeks. During that time, and through many conversations with others in the last 37 years, we have learned some of the best – and worst – practices for being a friend to someone who has experienced loss.

Loss comes in many shapes and sizes. From losing a child to losing a spouse, through death or divorce, from losing your health to losing a job, all these are forms of loss that call for our friendship to step up to another level of care and compassion.

As we think about being a friend, let’s think about what we go through in our heads and hearts as we contemplate helping someone who has lost. We want to do something that will really help, but are at a loss as to what that might be. What would really help is to undo the loss in the first place, but in most cases that is impossible. So what do we do that would be meaningful? We must resist the temptation to think that anything we say will make them feel better or “fix” the situation.

Within a week of losing Kyle, we had comments from well meaning friends who were trying to use words to make it all better. We heard everything from, “Well at least he’s in heaven” to “God must have known that he would have made your life miserable later on and was sparing you that grief.” We were glad for the assurance that our son was in heaven, but we would rather have had him with us right now. And we would have much rather have had a son, alive, even if he did make some bad choices later in life that would have been painful for him and us.

Words can bring some comfort in the midst of the pain, but they can never fix the pain one suffers in loss. Comforting words may include “I’m so sorry” or “My heart is aching for you right now” or “If I can do anything at all, please tell me. Can I…?” Don’t take over and become a bossy cow in the person’s life, but genuinely be there for them and with them, willing to do whatever.

The two people who helped the most right after we lost Kyle were very different, but both made a real impact. One dear friend just took the initiative, went to the store and bought some diapers for Eric, another of our sons, who was 2 ½ and in the hospital fighting for his life. He too had drowned, but was able to be resuscitated. Then she offered to take Bryan, our 3 ½ year old, to her house while we stayed overnight in the hospital.

Another dear friend came to the hospital to see me in the middle of the night. I was sitting in the hallway on the floor, reliving the horrors of that day over and over in my head. And my heart was aching from the reality that I would never see our son Kyle again in this life. Andy just sat next to me on the hallway floor. He put his arm around me and we just cried together. I’m not sure he ever said a single word in over two hours. He just sat and cried with me, and his presence meant the world to me in that moment.

One of the best things you can do is be a friend who is present and cares. Not a fixer. Be one who empathizes, not one who takes over and forces your help on someone else. Be one who says little, but loves greatly. It is your love, spoken or unspoken, that will mean the most to someone in their time of loss.[1]

[1] For more on this subject, consider my book, When Life Is Changed Forever: By the Death of Someone Near.

Love Letters

Love-Letters

Before Judy and I were married, we had a long distance dating relationship for a while, where Judy was in California and I was in Texas. We had to get creative, so we wrote letters – real hardcopy pen and paper letters – almost daily, and talked on the phone once a week. Even though we wrote daily letters, we didn’t always receive letters every day. Sometimes it would be three to four days between letters, and then I’d get several in one day.

No matter when I got a letter from Judy and no matter how many I received at a time, I always cherished them. I recall treating each one like a prized possession. I’d carry it from the mailbox to my apartment, put everything aside and prepare to relish every word on the pages I was about to open. The anticipation was always exhilarating.

I would take my letter opener and carefully open the top of the envelope to reveal the words on the pages that Judy had personally penned for me. I’d carefully pull the pages from the envelope and open them to reveal Judy’s heart and mind in ink – for me.

My mind and heart would race with anticipation of what I was about to read. Why? It was from Judy. A million different people could have written me a personal letter, but none of them would have steeped my expectancy like these words from Judy.

As I read the words on the pages, I savored every one. I analyzed each word and phrase. I wanted to make sure I drew out every nuance and meaning that Judy was thinking and feeling when she wrote this love letter to me.

I found myself pouring over the letter over and over again. I would read it again and walk away pondering the thoughts, the feelings, the meanings once again. There would always be a line or two that would particularly grab my heart or mind. I’d repeat it over and again in my mind. So many of Judy’s words spoke life to me, and gave me inspiration and determination to face the day ahead.

Today, Judy and I have been married for more than 44 years, but I will never forget those letters. And as I remember all that those letters meant to me – the anticipation, the pouring over them for meaning, the encouragement, the challenges, the words that spoke life and inspiration to me – I’m reminded of someone else who has written letters to me.

The God of the universe has spoken to me in the form of letters in the Bible. They are from the heart and mind of God to me – because He loves and cares for me. God did not put me here and say, “Good luck. I hope you can figure it all out.” He has given words of life. Do I cherish His words like I did Judy’s? Do I keep pouring over His words searching for meaning and intent? Do I long for the next time I can read His words? Do I keep rolling His words over and again in my mind?

If I truly love God as I have loved Judy, shouldn’t I treat His words to me with at least as much anticipation, joy, excitement and urgency as I did Judy’s letters?

The Many Faces of Love: A Child’s Love

A Child's Love

When Judy and I began having children, we were convinced with each one that they were going to be the most loving person in the world. It didn’t take very long with each one to realize, like parents learn about every child, that they were actually quite selfish.

Each child that comes into this world is born completely dependent on others to make living possible, which naturally contributes to their selfish tendencies. It doesn’t take long for them to begin to think the world revolves around them. Looking back on my own childhood, that includes me as well. Parents exist to grant a child’s every wish. Siblings exist for a variety of selfish reasons: to take out their frustration on, to compete with them and win, or to get even with each other for the way they were treated growing up.

Most parents truly love and cherish their children. They sacrificially give to and for their children without the slightest expectation of anything in return. And slowly something can begin to happen in their children.

A parent can go way out of their way to just bring a smile to their child’s face, only to get that smile with an attitude of, “You just did what parents are supposed to do.” No “thank you” or anything of the sort. But if the parents keep showing love, one day they may notice their child handing one of their stuffed animals to a sibling or friend as an act of sacrificial love.

Then at some point a child may actually give their parent a Valentine or a birthday present (that someone else actually paid for, of course) and with a proud face hand it to Mom or Dad. Often they will expect the parent to make big a big deal over their gift, since that selfishness is still lurking beneath the gift giving.

At some later point, they may learn the words, “Thank you” and “I love you.” They may even eventually say those words with some heart behind them, actually meaning them. It seems that by the time children grow into their early teens, they are finally learning a little bit about how much a parent has actually sacrificially loved them, but at this point they are often too shy to acknowledge it out loud. For later teens the shyness may turn into being too “big” to say such words. Some will. Some won’t.

Love is designed to be an acquired way of living, and as children grow and become adults, and start having their own children, some realities start to dawn on them. I can remember one of our adult sons asking me many questions over the phone, including, “Dad, how did you afford those soccer cleats for us each season?” As a parent, he was getting a better picture and clearer perspective that had eluded him in childhood.

Recently, our oldest son drove 11 hours to come and see us, and his grandmother who was in the hospital and then in hospice. I told him how much I appreciated it. I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him for the man he had become. He simply said, “Well Nana always loved us so well, always moved with us when we moved. It’s the least I could do.” He didn’t say a bunch of mushy stuff, but his actions were actions of love.

The next weekend, our other son and his whole family came to visit their Nana as well. They loved her and us by just taking the time and putting out the effort to show up. Our daughter also flew out from Little Rock, Arkansas to visit Nana and us. She took a lot of time and spent a lot of money because she loves her grandmother and her parents.

I love each of our children for who they are. I’d give my life for any of them. Love tends to grow where love is shown, and one of the best things in life is seeing our children growing in sacrificial love for their spouses, for their children, for each other, and even for Nana, Judy and me. And I’m extra grateful for their effort in coming to see their Nana one last time before she went to be with Jesus.

The Many Faces of Love: A Couple’s Love

A Couple's Love

When I first saw Judy, something happened in my heart. Her humor and joy in life shone through loud and clear, and spoke to a hole that was in my life – one I didn’t even realize was that big, until I saw that beautiful young woman so many years ago.

Then I actually met her and realized that what I thought was a hole was really a canyon. Every part of me wanted to be with her more and more. Eventually, I realized I not only wanted her in my life but also needed her in my life. And she realized she needed me as well. That was good news to me.

Now we have been married more than 43 years, and we have both learned many things about our love as a couple.

Young couples can undoubtedly love each other with an authentic love. But it is the testing of that love over time that helps it grow even deeper and stronger. Judy and I have had our love tested many times. Sure there are times when the testing pushes us further apart for periods of time, but in the long run it brings us back together with a deeper love than before.

When we lost our son Kyle in a tragic drowning accident in 1979, Judy and I faced the hardest year of our marriage. She and I needed to grieve so differently. Judy needed to process her grief out loud. I needed to be quiet and mentally process the whole experience. My quietness made Judy feel that I didn’t care. Her talking about it at every turn made me want to get away and find a place in solitude to think, ponder and make some of the biggest faith decisions of my life.

After a while, I realized Judy wasn’t trying to hurt me by talking constantly about her feelings. She was just processing her grief. And Judy realized that I wasn’t trying to ignore and run from her as much as I was just trying to process grief my own way. It was during this intense time of grieving that we learned more about each other than we had ever learned. We were so different, but we filled up what was missing in each other as well.

When our daughter developed a rare blood disease a few years later, we were able to handle it together so much better, as a couple who had drastic differences but whose love helped us appreciate and value each other as well.

When Judy’s mom, June, came to live with us for a little more than two years, our love grew once again as we moved into uncharted territory. June has Alzheimer’s. We knew very little about the disease at the time, but we had learned how to process through that hard time together. I saw Judy’s tender love and compassion for her mom, even though her mom could not understand or value her love much at the time. Watching Judy with her mom made my heart grow deeper in love with her.

We spent the last month with my mom lying in the hospital and then hospice as she suffered from congestive heart failure. She was challenged in taking each breath, her Alzheimer’s had progressed severely over the last decade, and we didn’t know what the outcome would be. Judy and I kept tag teaming being at the hospital with her. We hardly even saw each other, and when we did we were talking through end of life issues and alternatives. It wasn’t a very romantic Valentine’s season.

But as I watched Judy tenderly care for a mother that was not her own, my heart grew even closer to her. She did all this because of her love for me, which makes me love her even more. That girl I saw some 45 years ago has given me so much more than I could have ever known.

It saddens me when I see couples facing hard times and giving up, somehow thinking changing partners will solve their problems. That’s not how God designed life to be lived. It is through the hard times that love grows even deeper and stronger than you could possibly imagine. And that is the kind of love He desires for couples.

The Many Faces of Love: A Mother’s Love

A Mother's Love

As I write this, I am sitting in the hospital with my mom – again. This is the second time in three weeks she has had to be rushed to the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital with a critical blood infection the doctors can’t seem to get rid of.

As I watch my mom fight to live, I find my heart aching for her and my mind reflecting back on so many years of her love for me. Just the thought of her love brings tears to my eyes. I have always heard and felt her sacrificial love for me.

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, living in a small white house on John Street in Evansville, Indiana, our house backed up to a donut shop on Division Street. About 5:00am every day you could smell those donuts being made. What an alluring smell! And every Saturday morning my dad would walk those 100 steps or so to that donut shop and buy a half dozen fresh, warm donuts. He’d walk in the house and we’d sit down to a big glass of milk and two donuts each.

My mom loved donuts. In fact, she has always had a major sweet tooth. Every Saturday my mom would eat her first donut very slowly, while I wolfed down my two. Then my mom would say, “I’m not very hungry this morning. Want my other donut, Ricky?” Without hesitation I took her up on the offer and ate that third donut pronto.

I know now that being hungry or not had nothing to do with her offer of her second donut. My mom loved to see me happy and excited. She would do anything and everything she could for me – even to a fault at times. But it was always motivated by her deep love for me. I realize so much of what I know about love, I learned from my mother’s love.

From the earliest days I can recall, I have heard my mom, referred to as Nana by her grandchildren, say two things frequently: “I love you” and “I’m so proud of you.”

Even now, as she lays in her bed fighting for her life, the most common thing she says is, “I love you so much, Rick! What a blessing you are to me.”

And my heart speaks back to her, “I love you so much, Mom! I’m so blessed to have you as my mom.”

 

Note from the author: My mom went to be with Jesus last night. She is finally experiencing the complete peace and joy of being free from the pains of this life and being in the presence of God. She loved so well and was loved by so many. Thanks to all for your thoughtful words and prayers.

Learning to Cherish Jesus

Cherish-Jesus

After many years of being married to Judy, I could say I loved her, truly loved her – with my words and actions. However, I did not cherish her. That was something new to me. It was new territory.

I would love her by telling her I loved her. I would love her by doing the laundry some, doing the dishes some, bringing her flowers occasionally.

But to cherish her, that was another story. Cherish involves tenderly caring for her, creating an intimate, tender atmosphere where she feels loved and cared for, where she feels very special. It’s amazing to me how much deeper and more intimate my relationship with Judy became when I started growing in my desire and ability to cherish her.

As this new world was opening up to me, I also realized that I loved Jesus, truly loved Him – with my words and actions. But did I cherish Him?

I had taught Matthew 28:18-20 many times, but the end of those verses took on new significance for me. After commissioning His disciples, Jesus says, “and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Another way of translating that is, “I am with you every step of the way.”

It humbled my heart to seek to increasingly cherish Jesus – knowing that He cherishes being with me.

Jesus has promised to be with His disciples every step of life. You and I have the incredible opportunity to walk through life with Jesus.

When you feel at a total loss or in over your head…

Remember, He too had to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). He understands. Ask Him for help.

When you get frustrated by the religious culture all around you…

Remember, He reasoned with Jewish teachers at age 12 (Luke 2:46-47) and cast out money changers from the temple (Matthew 21:12). Seek His wisdom.

When you feel like your circumstances are impossible…

Remember, He walked on water and helped Peter back out of the water (Matthew 14:28-31). Reach the hand of your heart out to Him. He will lift you up.

When you are wrecked with fear…

Remember, He spoke and the storm was calmed (Mark 4:39-41). Share your heart and fears with Him. He cares. He can calm the storms in your life.

When you are weary to the bone…

Remember, He promised to give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and not to keep piling it on. Relax and rest in Him. You don’t have to do the work alone.

When you are falsely accused…

Remember, He faced His accusers with power, not words (John 19:9-11). He’s still there. Cry with Him. Count on Him and His power to sustain you.

When you are betrayed by others…

Remember, He was betrayed by all the disciples (Matthew 26:56). He will never betray you. Count on Him. He will stand with you, even all others desert you.

When your heart is hard and calloused…

Remember, He forgave Peter. He forgives you (John 21:15-19). Allow your heart to be softened and even broken by Him. He is a gentle, effective heart surgeon.

When you feel life isn’t worth living…

Remember, He felt your life was worth dying for (Mark 10:45) and He’s right here with you (Matthew 28:20). Draw near to Him. Walk with Him – every step of the way.

When you rise in the morning, walk through your day, and go to bed at night…

Remember, He’s right there with you, every step of the way.

No matter what your circumstances,
no matter how joyful or sad you are,
no matter how long you have been dealing with hard things…
Remember, He’s right there with you, every step of the way.

Remember, and never forget.

Cherish Jesus every moment you walk through life with Him.

25 Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do”

25 Questions-Rick

These are some questions every couple should ask each other and discuss before getting married. Be sure to listen carefully and thoughtfully to the other person’s answers. Knowing these things about each other ahead of time could save a lot of heartache later.

1. Why do you want to get married?

2. Why not just live together?

3. Of all the people in the world, why do you want to marry me?

4. What would it take for you to throw in the towel after we are married?

5. What are the strengths you see in me?

6. What are the challenges you see that I still need to grow through?

7. What do you think our biggest wins will be as a married couple?

8. What do you think our biggest challenges will be as a couple?

9. What are the top 5 most important things in life to you?

10. If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?

11. What was your relationship with your father, and how did that impact you?

12. What was your relationship with your mother, and how did that impact you?

13. What was life like in your family between you and your siblings (if you have any)?

14. What do you assume it will be like on Christmas? Birthdays? Thanksgiving? Other holidays?

15. Where are you at spiritually? (See your spiritual growth self-assessment.)

16. What are the similarities and differences in our spiritual beliefs?

17. What place do you believe “faith” should play in our relationship/family?

18. What communicates love to you?

19. What makes you feel disrespected?

20. What about children? How many should we have? When?

21. What is your dream day and/or night like?

22. What is your dream vacation?

23. What is any unfinished business from the past that you need to take care of?

24. Are there any issues in our relationship right now that we need to deal with?

25. When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably? What was it about?