Ghosts

I’d written the letter in the safe confines of my journal. With the initial written across the page, I wrote the words as they mixed with tears. I’m a letter writer, but some letters are best left unsent.

It had been a movie of all things, on a winter February afternoon, that had made the tears stream and my hands reach for my journal. It was only a few lines spoken to a grieving woman by her friend. “All of us live with ghosts,” she’d said, as she sat on the bed where her friend lay. “We must learn to live with them.

Get up. Eat. Get out there.” And with a pregnant pause I’m sure I’ve added in my memory for effect, she added, “Spring is waiting.”

Spring is waiting.

Sometimes people become ghosts. Dreams become ghosts. Hopes become ghosts.

And there’s a lot of time we find ourselves lying in that bed, holding onto them as if they are real. And we think that if we hang onto those ghosts, and who we were, somehow the world doesn’t change. It won’t go on without us.

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But it does. And we miss it, if we stay with those ghosts. We miss it, if we hold onto the former things.

It wouldn’t be until months later, on a street somewhere in the city, the Holy Spirit would visit and say words that would shake me to the core. “You can’t leave something behind unless you believe what is ahead is far greater.” I get caught up in loss sometimes, you see. Maybe we all do. But I let ghosts cloud my vision and I need to hear those words from that movie months ago:

spring is waiting.

It’s waiting. And spring is beautiful, and glorious, because new life is there. New life that we miss if we hold onto the ghosts.

But the beautiful thing about life is that we learn. We learn to live with the ghosts.  

So get up. Eat. Get out there.

Spring is waiting.

A Story Bigger Than Me

I visited their graves today.

Stirling and Daryl.

Sometimes I stumble over their names because they aren’t used very often. I don’t even know how to refer to them, really. Do I refer to them as my grandparents? As my Dad’s parents?

Stories of their lives are few and far between, I assume because the memories are blanketed by sorrow. We will most likely watch our parents die, but not when we are sixteen. I grew up knowing that they had died, knowing there were a few pictures of them scattered about the house, and knowing where they had lived and what they had done.

But I didn’t know what made them laugh. I didn’t know what recipes my Grandmother made for Thanksgiving dinner, or if my Grandfather smoked a pipe on the steps of his store.

It was my first experience of feeling another’s loss: of being desperately sad for my Dad and the loss of his parents. And then, as I grew older, it was my first taste of grieving what wouldn’t be.

There would be no second set of grandparents at school assemblies.

There would be a couple missing at every wedding, at every funeral.

There would be no conversations that began with, “When your dad was young …”

It’s a loss that I wonder about. Even though they passed away long before I was born, they are still a part of me. And I wonder about that part. I wonder what of them I carry with me.

But what they’ve taught me in their absence is to live well. To live between the beginning and the end as fervently as I can. To love deeply, to remember that my life, no matter how short or how long, impacts the next generation. I am a part of a story bigger than me.

Just as Stirling and Daryl were.

Those Hands of Loss

It’s at the top of the stairs I find myself falling, falling into the hands of loss. It finds me in these strange places. There is makeup to be put on, my bag to be unpacked, my rain jacket to be found. But I can’t move. It always seems to be that in the moments when I least want to hear them that I do: I hear those memories echoing in the silence of a quiet house. I wonder at the pain it must bring to be a parent in an empty house, one that was never supposed to be empty. I wonder and hurt at the intense loneliness that this breaking brings.

My hand drops from the knob and I take the stairs. One at a time, I whisper to myself. That’s all. Just one. step. at. a. time. And it’s hard not to fall over, in this grip of loss, because it’s only in these rare moments loss has its opportunity to stare at me face to face. Oh sure, it seems to always be there, but most days it seems more like an unwelcome companion.

It does not always have the boldness it has today.

And I walk by the boxes that fill the basement, and the boxes contain the memories that refuse to be left safely inside. Because there are journals open, with her scrawl across them, that remind me of that other life. There are letters and framed photographs that once graced the wall of a family home. They once told a story. And now their story is in a box, in a basement, hidden away.

And I stop walking. Because loss is too heavy. It stops me in my tracks, and I’m frozen there until the crunch of gravel in the driveway outside brings me back.

Because there’s makeup to be put on, a bag to be unpacked, and a jacket to be found. And so I leave the journals and stories in their boxes. And I walk away.

A Grace Disguised

There’s a part of my life that I am very open with. In fact, I’ve always considered myself good at talking about circumstances, but not always very good at talking about what’s going in my heart. Two years ago, a new chapter began in my life: my family broke apart, and I’ve begun to manoeuvre my way through the broken remains. And I’m doing that … one day at a time. And to be truthful, I’ve talked a lot about it: I’ve talked to therapists and to close friends. I’ve shared, but I’ve also held back.


But lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot on this chapter in my life. I’ve thought a lot about the day it all began; I’ve thought of the journey I’ve taken from that dark night to where I am now. I’ve thought of the growth, of the heartache, of the anger, and of the many backwards steps I’ve taken. I’ve wrestled with memories that I want to hold onto, but hold so much pain I push them aside. But of all these things, I’ve challenged myself to see the beauty that has come out of this brokenness.


The other day, I met with a friend who was journeying through a breakup. And through the conversation, I felt myself drawing near to her in her pain …. because although our pain and loss is unique to each of us, there’s such a huge overarching theme. Pain is pain. Grief is grief. Loss is loss. And when we’ve experienced that, it allows us to meet others in the depths of their sorrow.


And as I sat there in that coffee shop, I was immensely grateful. Because although every day I wish my family was whole, I can take so much from my journey.


I am so thankful that this path I’m on has enabled me to walk alongside others in their journeys.


I’m so thankful I know what it means to grieve; because I can understand others so much better now.


I’m so thankful that I’ve learned that sorrow can enlarge your soul; that it can make you learn what it means to truly feel both sadness and joy.


When I see others hurting, when I see others grappling with loss, I just want them to know that when God says all things work together for His good, He doesn’t mean that what happened was okay, or even should have happened. But He will USE bad things for His glory. He can turn what was literally intended as a curse into a blessing. He can show you how joy does not mean the absence of sorrow! In fact, joy and sorrow seem to go alongside one another … for He calls us who mourn blessed. 


This past year I read one of the best books I have ever read, A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. His book is profound. Through his loss, he reaches into others’ souls … and allows them to see the grace that shines through loss. And I hope that in some small way, that light shines through me … that Christ’s redemption shines through every circumstance. Here is one of my favorite quotes from his book.


“Gifts of grace come to all of us. But we must be ready to see and willing to receive these gifts. It will require a kind of sacrifice, the sacrifice of believing that, however painful our losses, life can still be good — good in a different way then before, but nevertheless good. I will never recover from my loss and I will never got over missing the ones I lost. But I still cherish life. . . . I will always want the ones I lost back again. I long for them with all my soul. But I still celebrate the life I have found because they are gone. I have lost, but I have also gained. I lost the world I loved, but I gained a deeper awareness of grace. That grace has enabled me to clarify my purpose in life and rediscover the wonder of the present moment.” 


I have lost the world I loved, but in that loss, I too have found a deeper awareness of grace. And for that, I am so very thankful.