Moving Forward After Unexpected Loss

I’ve been off the blog/writing grid for almost a full year. Life handed me something I didn’t see coming.

But before I say one more word, I want you to know that I’ve missed you! I’ve missed being here with you and connecting with other mommas, midlifers, and others who are doing there best to navigate through waters of change.

To those of you that have been following me for a while let me just say Thank You! Thank you for your prayers, kind thoughts and messages you’ve sent me this past year. It meant more than you know!

Please allow me a quick second to recap my journey for those any new followers reading this post.

(Deep breath)

Last August 2018, I joined the club the that no-one wants to be in…ever.

The sudden death of my son-in-law, Adam (my oldest daughter Grace’s husband) sent our family into the depths of individual and shared grief.

(You can read my last post from Oct 11, 2018 highlighting a bit of my grief-journey here).

Since that gut-wrenching day we have been walking with our daughter and her four young children through the-year-of-first things. And if you have lost a loved one, you know this all too well, and the year-of-first-things needs no clarification.

As a family, we are continually learning to let ourselves be broken-hearted and at the same time, allowing ourselves to experience the comforting love and hope of God, in Christ.

In the midst of pain, God is near the broken-hearted.

“Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. … The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Ps 34:18 NIV)

The Unrelenting Way of Grief

And yet, even in knowing that God is near, grief has a way of laying flat even the strongest of heart, mind, body, soul and spirit.

For most of this past year, I felt like the wind was knocked right out of my lungs. I had trouble breathing, sleeping, and eating. By the time November rolled around my health began to decline and my immune system was shot. I was sick for almost 9 months straight beginning with double pneumonia followed by five other infections, one after another. I gained a lot of weight and I had little to no energy most days.

I absolutley underestimated the aftermath affects of grief.

I’m still working through a few minor health issues, but I know it’s time to move forward.

So, I want to begin this come-back post by saying this one thing (well this, and a few more things)…

Where we’ve been is only part of the story God is telling with our lives!

arrow doodle by betsy

The Purpose of Arrows

From the time I could hold pencil in my hand, I started doodling arrows…like this one (above).

Not only do I draw them all-the-time, I notice them everywhere!

I never really gave much thought about why I doodle arrows until recently, but it’s interesting to highlight what a few graphologists have to say about various handwriting styles and habits.

“a person’s handwriting can actually provide an in-depth look into their personality. … Graphologists believe that handwriting can be a window into the mind of the writer, and by analyzing how someone transcribes letters and words onto a page, you can analyze their psychological profile.”

(wikihow.com)

And this:

“A determined person with a specific goal in mind will draw arrows, subconsciously ‘aiming’ at his or her ‘target’. If the arrow is sharp and angular, the target probably is something important — perhaps a person who needs to be confronted or a job that needs to be applied for. If it is more fluid — and decorated — it’s likely to be the target is an affair of the heart or something the doodler feels passionate about.”

(dailymail.com)

And this:

Arrows symbolize a vector, your direction in life. If the arrow is pointing upwards — you’re a people oriented person, if it points down — you’re self-focused; a leftward arrow means that you’re stuck in the past, and if it points to the right, you look forward to the future.”

(quara.com)

Can you guess which way my arrow-doodles point?

By nature, I’m a visionary strategist. I love big picture ideas. I see what is possible and I like to strategize how to get there, so it’s no surprise that my arrows always point right. I often find myself thinking about the next thing.

Forward thinking shows up in my home life, in my work life, in my relational life, and it most certainly occupies a fair amount of brain territory in my writing life.

As I think about moving forward in this world of sharing life-giving-words to my readers and strategize the who, what, where, when, and why of it all, something within me says, “yes, this is where I belong.”

The phrase from the reference above, “an affair of the heart” jumped off the page to me. That’s me!, I thought. A yes and amen and a big hallelujah!

My soul comes alive when I’m moving forward and making progress in other areas of my life, but most certainly in my writing life. I find pleasure when I’m thinking about the people I want to connect with through my next writing project, blog post, or my next book.

My amazing writing community, @hopewriters, helps me think through these things in very practical and strategic ways and help me answer so many how questions. Not to mention the amazing writing friends I’ve made!

My subconscious habit of doodling and noticing arrows may speak to my innate tendency of forward thinking, but I believe arrows can remind us of something even more important, especially when the time comes for us to move forward from hard places we’ve been, such as hurts we’ve encountered, setbacks we need to overcome, and loss that has ripped our heart wide open.

Allow me a few minutes of your time to share a few things I’m learning about where I’ve been and where I am right now.

5 Things to Remember When It’s Time to Move Forward:

  1. There is a certain beauty about (the act of) moving forward.
  2. Everyone moves forward differently.
  3. Moving Forward is Done Best in Community.
  4. Each chapter prepares you for the next.
  5. God holds your whole story.

There is a certain beauty about (the act of) moving forward.

This past August 25, 2019, we again gathered as a family at our home and rallied our hearts around our still heart-broken daughter. Her siblings arrived one-by-one.

We thought we were strong. We wanted to laugh more than we cried. But we didn’t. We wanted to celebrate the countless wonderful memories Adam left us with, but we cried more tears of sadness that he’s no longer here.

This day marked the end of our year of first things. We new it would be hard. One full year of emotions colliding. Of missing him and celebrating with him that he is in his forever home with Jesus. We tried to be strong …for our Gracie, but we were reminded again that God shows up best in weakness.

But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.God’s power is made perfect in weakness, for when we are weak, he is strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9 New English Translation (NET Bible)

On August 26th, the very next day, my forever-changed daughter, gave me a glimps of what it looks like to move forward even in the midst of lasting grief.

She got up that next morning, got her kids ready for school, went for a walk with her littles, worked out with her sister, and moved forward with the One whose arms hold her tightly.

God-infused strength and courage enabled her heart, mind, and body, to take another step forward; and it was a beautiful and humbling thing to witness.

God’s power made perfect in weakness. God’s beauty and strength on display in human weaklings.

Everyone Moves Forward Differently

Any trained grief counselor will tell you that everyone moves forward through grief differently. The challenge for those of us walking through grief personally or with another person is learning to honor each others grief journey.

When my own physical health was weak, I could not be there for my daughter to help with laundry, the kids or just sit with her. I had to step back and take care of myself and trust God to take care of my daughter.

He did in abundance and continues to do so.

I’ve also fumbled my way through grief like a true amateur.

I’ve said things that I shouldnt have said. My help was not always helpful. My timing has been off. My words have failed. My heart has not always been in the right place. I’ve needed God’s grace and foregiveness and I’ve also had to give it.

I’ve also observed each of my kids grieve differently. Each one of them had a very unique and special realtionship with Adam. Adam was relational at the core of his being; and we all felt our own loss deeply in addition to our that of our daughter and sister.

No matter how much time passes after a major loss of a loved one – no matter what that loss looks like – it seems reasonable that we would continue to find ways to honor the grief journey of others. How and when an individual moves forward with their lives will be as unique as the fingerprints on each persons hand. May we honor and respect this reality and continue to walk alongside them in love as they move forward with their lives.

The truth, is that no one wants to be on the path of grief and loss. But we are. And we need God’s help to show us how to move forward in grace, truth, and love.

Moving Forward is Done Best in Community

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Matt 5:4

Individually, our family is moving forward to be sure. But one thing I hold closest to my heart in this journey forward, is the way my other seven children continue to love and support their sister in so many sweet and practical ways; from helping her with care for her home and yard (ie remodeled kitchen, putting up a new fence, landscaping, etc), to taking care of her kids, getting her out of the house for adult fun, spending time with her, and showing up for “Donuts with Dads”.

My momma heart swells with inward joy and gratitude toward God when I see my crazy-eight loving and caring for eachother the way they do.

These are a few of the flowers from Adam’s funeral that a precious family member
turned into beautiful floral arrangements for my daughter and me.

I can only speak about my own personal journey and this past year, and the things I have learned about the role of relational community and the path of sorrow.

It has been astounding to witness God’s overwhelming love that showed up in the faces of friends and family who went above and beyond in countless ways to demonstrate their love, concern and care, for Grace, her kids, and our entire family.

It’s all grace – and the gift of God.

As we’ve traveled through this new journey for a full year together, I’ve learned more about my daughter, her 4 beautiful children, my eight adult kids and their spouses, and my grandchildren, and how they too, were so uniquely impacted by Adam’s departure from this earth and their lives. I think we all have learend more about eachother because we have walked through our sadness together.

Adams’ legacy is a gift that we will always treasure in our hearts and also in our ongoing family text threads.

We have intentionally made Adam part of of our everyday conversations and we will continue to honor his life and legacy, through our annual golf outing and our non-profit organization (www.leaderwithin.org), so that as a family and organization, we can bless others.

You can also bet we’ll be showing up for every “donuts for dads”, “daddy-daughter” dances, and other important events and stand in the gap for our Adam.

In community, we will continue to love and support our daughter Grace in every way we can as she moves forward with her life, and as we move forward with ours.

Each Chapter Prepares You for the Next

As I look through the rear view mirror of my life, I can see the miracluous hand of God that has used various circumstances, people, and his Word to shape my life. The process of becoming who God made us to be is complex to be sure. Not one thing goes to waste in God’s economy – and in our lives, as well.

I have also other companions that assisted me, such as Mr. Myers Briggs‘ or “MBTI” for short; Miss ‘DISC Profile‘ and Miss IDAK; Mrs. Strengths Finder and more recently, the well known, Professor ‘Enneagram‘.

I’ve taken more personality tests than I can count and I have the notebooks filled with notes to prove it. These various personality assessments played an important role in my spirtual growth, in making career decisons, and also just helping me appreciate the way I have been uniquely hard-wired by God.

What I have found most helpful are the people that help you understand them! We often refer to them as life coaches, spiritual directors, counselors, teachers and mentors.

Their title highlights their intrinsic value and can prove to be quite helpful. These trained gurus help us see what we can’t see ourself. They offer precious insight as well as a plan to help us move forward! And while all these things teach us to lean into a place of self-discovery to help us make sense of things that don’t make sense, what I have found most beneficial is the way they help me uncover a deeper understanding of God.

For, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

Eph 1:11-12 MSG

I don’t know exactly how my moving forward story will unfold, but I know that for now, my next right thing means getting healthy again and getting back to being a writer and actually writing.

And so I shall.

As you look over the landscape of your life, I hope you see the loving hands of the one true, faithful, and Sovereign, God.

We would not be who we are if we haven’t been where we’ve been. It is God who is working all things together for our good. And though we may have tasted bitter the waters of personal loss in this life, he is still good, and he is God, and our story is not yet over.

Though I have had the help of many special individuals that have helped me see my way forward at different times in my life, I know that Jesus is the only one who brings lasting hope and purpose to our life, and somewhere woven in the fabric of our life-story he miraculously and meticulously weaves in all the places that are broken, lost, and painful.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

1 Cor 13:12 (ESV)

God Holds The Whole of Your Story: (Beginning, Middle, and End)

Everyone loves a good story.

We know that the greatest stories possess all the components of innocence, beauty, love, darkness, tragedy, loss, villians, hope, rescues, and heroes.

Whether we read one or see one on film or in real life, we can’t wait to tell others! We want them to experience what we did! We want them to know what we know, and feel what we felt. We want them to love it and enjoy it just like we did.

As fantastic as any story might be, behind the curtain guiding and directing it all, is an incredible story teller. And don’t we all love a good storyteller?

No matter how many days or years we are given on this earth, we must remember that its the the whole of our lives is a series of stories.

Chapters, if you will.

What would an outline of your life look like if it were written in chapter?

Mine would look something like this:

Chapter One: A Gold Medal to the Woman Who Raised Me (Childhood, Creative Pursuits, Sibling Rivalry, etc)

Chapter Two: Unexpected Crisis (Teen Preganacy, Bad Choices that Change the Trajectory of My Life, Dreams of Becoming a Fashion Designer Crushed, Meeting Jesus, Restored Hope.

Chapter Three: Girl Meets Blind Date Boy, Marriage, Adopts Child and Makes Him His Own, I Always Wanted a Big Family, Seven More Kids Later.

Chapter Four: The Simple But Hard Years, Raising Kids is Serious Buisness, Overwhelmed But Pressing Through, Marrital Strain, Tested Faith, idden Insecurities Exposed, Growing deeper in Christ.

Chapter Five: Doing the Right Thing Even When It’s Hard, Kids at All Ages, Balancing Work and Ministry, Launched into Fulltime Ministry, Leadership Growth, In My Sweet Spot, Career Changes, Health Issues, Depression, God is still Good.

Chapter Six: Launching Kids into the World, College Years, Kids Getting Maried, Gaining In-law-kids, Families Growing, Family Dynamics Changing, Becoming a Flight Attendant at Age 52. Discovering my Love for Writing Words that Offer Help and Hope, Launching a blog, Becoming a Published Author, Lots of Amazing Grandchildren.

Chapter Seven: All Kids Married and Happy, Life is Good. Tragedy Falls Hard; Lose a Son-in-law that you love like a son; Shared Grief, Widow Daughter with Four Littels, We Need You Jesus. Cling to God and Keep Moving Forward.

Chapter Eight: TBC

My new journey (of personal grief and being the mom of a widowed daughter) was once not part of my story, but now it is. And here I stand in the middle of that story, just as you stand where you are in the middle of yours.

Though we do not know what lies ahead in our next chapter, we can know that our story is safe, because of the one who is writing every line and chapter of our lives.

“For I know the things I’ve prepared for YOU says the Lord. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you a future, and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

In this, we can take hold of hope friends. God is at work forging his love, peace, hope, and joy into the warp and weft of our lives.

There is no greater peace than knowing the One who holds our past, present, and future.

As a believer in Jesus, I know that your story and my story has a great ending. We too, will one day be with our Lord and Savior Jesus, our loved ones, and the angels, where there will be no more mourning, sorrow, or tears.

One moment following another – moving our lives forward – for good.

betsy stretar

This Story-teller of story-tellers loves you right where you are friend. He sees, and he knows you better than any personality test and better than you know yourself.

He knows where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going. And he delights in those who put their hope and trust in his son, Jesus.

Therefore friends, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

Together, may we move forward in this hope!

Each Chapter of Your Life-story Prepares You for the Next.

I have learned this one other thing, friends; the God of broken teenagers (hand raised), blind dates (me), eight kids (me again), and countless other things I can’t explain in my life, is also the God of tragic loss.

Losing my son-in-law has without question changed our family in so many ways, and moving forward, has been a slow stumbling walk at best for most of us. We are learning how to move forward one day at-a-time, one conversation at-a-time, one breath at time.

We will continue to celebrate and miss Adam’s unique presence in our lives and we will never stop missing the unique parts of what made him who he was…his red hair, his freckeled body, his smile, his jokes, his golf-shirt/polo wardrobe, his aburd sense of humor, his caring advice, his thought-provoking questions, his “two-things” when giving advice, his quick whit, his intellegence, his gift for helping and serving others, his work ethic, his heart of compassion, and his unwavering love for Jesus, his family, and countless number of friends. Do you know someone who has been the best man in 13 weddings? We do. His name is Adam H. Jackson. Not was Adam H. Jackson – he is very much still with us in so many ways! He is also very much alive with Jesus, his Savior.

I don’t have all the answers on how I’ll be moving forward yet. I am forever changed because Adam is no longer here physically. But no matter what my moving forward looks like, I pray that my writing will become richer and deeper; that I will become a more compassionate person who is able to empathize more fully with those who grieve; that I will become more fully myself – the woman, wife, mother, friend, and writer God made me to be.

Now it’s your turn.

What are you learning and struggling with concerning your next chapter? How are you moving forward in your right-now life? I’d love to hear from you! I’d also like to invite you to subscibe to my email list if you haven’t already. You’ll be the first to know about what I’m working on next.

You can find me at www.betsystretar.com or on my Facebook page “Above and Beyond Midlife” or on Instagram @betsystretar. Please subscribe or “like” any or all of the above so we can stay connected. I’d also like to ask you, if you would be so kind, to “like” my EDS Books Page and my IG page for my Childrens Book, @acorngert.

Thank you for being here with me today! Please let me know what you’re struggling with, learning, or how I can pray for you.

Until next time,

Betsy

PS: “Don’t switch to decaf coffee unless you have a good reason too!

betsy stretar

Moving Forward Resources:

There certainly is a certain beauty about moving forward.

And it’s a pleasure for me to share a few of my favorite people with you that have blessed and encouraged me a ton this past year (whether they know it or not). Several of them are hope*WRITER friends that I’ve met over the past several years and whose friendship and words were healing balm to my sad, hurting soul.

Hope*writers is my favorite  writing community in the blogoshere. And if you are even slightly thinking about growing in your writing journey, you should definitely consider joining hope*writers. 

The first person is, Emily.

This wonderfully written book, The Next Right Thing, by Emily P Freeman (one of the co-founders of hope*writers), is a book you will want to read, share, then reread and share again. (I bought 10 of them to give as gifts, it’s that good y’all!)

Emily writes…“When we have a decsion to make, what we want more than anything is peace, clarity, and a nudge in the right direction.”

So…“Whether you’re in the midst of a major life transition or ar weary of the low-grade anxiety that life can bring, Emily helps create space for your soul to breathe so you can live life with God at a gentle pace and discern your next right thing in love.”

Next is this gem, by my friend Nikki (also a hope*writer).
Nikki Hardy is a rectal cancer survivor. Her book, Breathe Again, is her honest journey, sprinkled with a lot of British humor (which I love), though the tragic loss of her mother and her sister, and her own diagnosis with cancer.

To whet your appetite for more, I’ll just leave you with this little teaser; the titles of a few of her chapters: Rubbish We Believe When Poop Hits the Fan, and Life Doesn’t Have to Be Pain-free to be Full.

Cheering you on Nikki!

And this one I’m just now digging into, by Kevin Ott, called Shadowlands, and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey Into Joy and Healing

I disovered this book after doing a CS Lewis Devotion on my Bible App called, CS Lewis and Joy. It’s been downloaded of 75,000 times, and I highly recommend it.

Ott builds upon the writings of CS Lewis, his love for the music (U2/Bono), and his personal journey through grief, and beautifully brings to the forefront a biblical concept of the word “longing.” Ott fills the pages with so many rich insights that connect grief’s journey with our inward longings to know the beyond. I don’t want to give too much away, just trust me when I say, you won’t want to put it down.

Finnaly, (though I could probably share many more) I’ll leave you with this Ted Talk that I recently listened to by Nora McInerny.

McInerny is a young widow who offered her story of grief in way that helps others understand the difference between moving forward and moving on. She said, “A grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again. Yes, they’re going to move forward. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve moved on.”

You can listen to her talk here: TED It’s so good!

I look forward to catching up in the weeks and months ahead with you.

And I’ll be talking more about all the “Next” things.

Peace Friend.

BS

2 thoughts on “Moving Forward After Unexpected Loss

  1. inkypinky says:

    LOVE your writer’s voice and heart, Betsy. And the arrows…of course you notice them everywhere! Even the name of your blog and your profession shout “upward and onward!” So glad you’re back and posting your thoughts again. Grief changes our writer’s voice, for sure. But it doesn’t take it away. Your words matter, and they are perfectly framed and timed. So glad to read your thoughts here. I’ve copied your “Five Things” into my little “Today is the Day” notebook/calendar/journal/receipt holder because my hand and my brain are so directly connected — one helps the other ‘get it!’ Love you dearly, sweet friend. Thank you again for showing up here.

    Like

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