Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Dreams

I've had several more dreams of Michael this week. The first one I remember he had returned home (how one does that from where he is, I do not know...), and he was moving all his studio equipment back in the house. He was actually taking over the living room with all of it, but I was so happy to have him back that I didn't even care about all the crap and clutter coming into the house.

In another dream, he had disappeared from our lives, but we didn't know why or where he was. I was on the phone with his mother and we were both perplexed by his absence. He wouldn't return our calls. It was very distressing and I woke up with a start. Thankfully, I'm not living that dream. I know Michael is safe and sound with the Lord.

In the third dream, I found him walking around in the parking lot at church looking for his car. Of course I was surprised to see him, and I asked him how he managed to get back here from there. I don't recall getting an answer to that question. But we did find the car, and I told him he was lucky that I hadn't already given it to his friend Willy (that's the plan IRL). He wasn't interested in driving it, so I did and he sat in the passenger seat. He looked good. The hair he'd lost because of the radiation treatments had grown back, and I was so happy to see his full head of hair again.

It's hard to describe the joy I feel when I dream of Michael. For that moment, he is with me and I am relieved of my loss and my grief. It feels like I've gotten my life back.

All Worked Up

Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes regarding my job situation. It's been a tough couple of weeks. First of all, learning that I wasn't given a primary grade position for the coming year as I'd requested, and then that I was expected to move out of my classroom into another. I took it hard. I've been at my present school for twelve years, and I've taught the same grade for eleven of those years. I am ready to do something new, but I seem to be pigeonholed as a fourth grade teacher.

So, I figured if I was going to be expected to move out of my classroom that I might as well seek a primary grade position at another school within my school district. On Monday, I filled out a transfer application, and then I made some phone calls. The phone calls led to two interviews at two different schools, but they were both for second grade teaching positions. I think I interviewed well and I hope to receive an invitation to teach at one of the schools sometime next week.

I really wish this wasn't something I have to deal with now. Grief is hard work, let me tell you. The last thing I want to do is spend my precious energy on interviewing and packing up my classroom - especially since I'm on a leave of absence which was supposed to eliminate my work-related stress. My hope is that as difficult as this is, that the Lord will direct my steps towards a school and a position that will give me the chance to have a positive impact on my students, but less conflict and stress in the workplace.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dear Friends,

I am in need of prayer. As if being in this season of grief and loss is not enough to bear, there is a situation concerning next year's teaching position that has me greatly distressed. I don't want to go into the details here because I can never be sure who is reading and who might twist my words. I am not currently working, as my doctor has placed me on a leave of absence, but nevertheless decisions are being made that impact me.

Please pray for my peace of mind. I tend to perseverate on things and work myself up into a bit of a frenzy. After not having taken any anxiety medication in more than a month, I had to take it twice in the last few days.

Please pray for the best outcome for my grade level assignment and school location. It may be necessary to make a change to be in the best place for me.

Please pray that others with the power to make decisions that impact me would have compassion for me. I have been through so much. I am weary. I need an advocate to work on my behalf.

I am so blessed to have so many friends who read my blog and who care for me. Thank you for your love and support.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Precious Words

While waiting for my counseling appointment yesterday, I came across some text messages on my iPhone that Michael and I had exchanged earlier this year. We used to text each other a lot, and I regret now that I deleted anything he ever texted to me no matter how mundane it was. I've learned how precious each and every word he said or wrote to me is now that he's not here.

In January, he was experiencing difficulty breathing, and Dr. K admitted him to the hospital for several days. We were together during the day, but I spent the nights at his sister's a few blocks away. The following are some of the text messages we exchanged during this time:

January 8, 2010

I love you, Honey. Sleep tight. XO (Joannah)

I love you too baby... so much. You sleep well too. See you tomorrow. X O M (Michael)

January 10, 2010

Good morning. How did you sleep?

Off and on.

Love yoooouu. Forever.

January 11, 2010

I am missing you right now. XO

I was just thinking of you. I really miss you and want to go home and be with you. Love of my life.

You are the sweetest man. Get some rest. I will take you home in a few short hours. :-)

Please do. See you in the morning. :-)

January 12, 2010

Good morning baby. Had my best night of sleep since I've been here.

Hope I get out of here today.

Another thing I came across recently was a letter he wrote me about our wedding day. It was part of our guestbook, and I had to hound him to get him to complete it. Guys just aren't into the sentimental stuff, I guess. I'm so glad he finally got around to it, because it's the longest thing he ever wrote to me. I love seeing his written thoughts and his handwriting.


Thank you for being my wife. I will love you forever. I look forward to our future together, whatever happens. I will be sharing it with you.

Thank you for not giving up on us. I know it took me a while, but I hope it's worth the wait. I look forward to starting a family with you, the mother of my children.

I love you, love being with you, and am excited about sharing our lives together.

To my beautiful bride (Mrs. Labrador)
All my love,

I miss that guy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Today marks the first anniversary of the day we learned Michael had cancer.

Michael started coughing many months before, in October of 2008 actually. He had been on the road for several weeks and when he came home in early October, he felt rundown. The cough started up shortly thereafter. At first we thought he had picked something up while he was traveling. When the cough persisted for several weeks, I started suggesting that he go see the doctor about it, but he didn't do so.

After coughing for three months, Michael finally saw our GP in January of 2009. She treated him for allergies. Then when he saw a pulmonologist, he was told he had asthma. I thought he had MAC or tuberculosis because of the night sweats and the weight loss.

But cancer never crossed our minds until May 18th last year.

After Michael's inflammatory markers came back high on some bloodwork the pulmonologist ordered, he sent Michael to get a CT scan. I remember meeting Michael at the medical center that afternoon. We were both happy that he was getting the CT scan because we thought we'd finally get some answers about the cough. Whatever it was, we assumed it would be treatable, and we'd do what we needed to do and get on with our lives.

After the scan, we went home. But it wasn't long before we got a call from the pulmonologist. He wanted to see us that evening so he could go over the results of the scan together. Once again, in our ignorance we were just thinking we'd get a diagnosis and a treatment plan and move on. You know what they say - ignorance is bliss.

Needless to say, our meeting with the doctor was devastating. When he said he thought we were looking at some sort of cancer (pancreatic or kidney), our world came crashing down around us. We both held it together while the doctor made arrangements for Michael to have a biopsy the next day, but once we left his office I started crying and couldn't stop. Michael was in shock. I had the presence of mind to drive us to first my parents' and then to his parents' to share the bad news.

It was one of the worst days of my life. And in the days and weeks that followed, as we came to learn what kind of cancer Michael had, we knew the odds were against us. But even then, I would never have expected that he'd be gone less than a year later.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Michael's Spiritual Journey {Part 4}

Pastor Ray had asked him what he believed, and Michael was at a loss for words.

I don't know what came over me, but all of a sudden I had an insight as to what Michael believed and exactly how it was preventing him from getting close to God. It must have been the Holy Spirit working through me because I had not fully considered ahead of time what I ended up sharing at that moment. I asked Michael if it was okay for me to share what I thought he believed, and I told him he could jump in and correct me at anytime. He told me to go ahead.

So, I told Pastor Ray that because Michael subscribed to the idea of karma, that he thought his cancer was some sort of karmic punishment for all the bad things he'd done in his life. Michael was nodding his head in agreement at this point. I then went on to say that a terrible idea had been put in his head by his sister-in-law several months ago when she came to see him. Under the auspices of visiting him while he was sick, she came in to our home, questioned him about his relationship with me, and asked him if he'd ever considered that the cancer was his karma for breaking up with his previous girlfriend to marry me. You see, his SIL is BFFs with his ex-girlfriend and she has never approved of our relationship, and she has never forgiven us. This caused some turmoil when it happened, but on this day I realized that he'd taken her mean-spirited words to heart.

Ray then explained the difference between karma and God's grace and mercy. How when we enter into a relationship with God through Christ we are forgiven of our sins past and future. Christ purchased us that forgiveness when He died on the cross, and that he defeated death when he rose again. Because of that we will enjoy eternal life with Him. Death really has no hold on one who is in Christ. That's it in a nutshell. (If you would like more detailed information, you can check out this series of Bible studies.)

He asked Michael to consider that, and he pointed out how the idea of karma keeps one in bondage to their sins from life to life. That it's somehow up to the individual to work off their sins - even if they have no recollection of what they are. He contrasted the effort required and the punitive aspect of the karmic system with God's gift of forgiveness for those who believe in His Son Jesus. It was a good education for Michael. Pastor Ray prayed with us and left Michael to think about things.

In the next couple of weeks, we talked some more about karma versus Christianity. Michael read a little booklet about Christianity my parents had left for him. On a ride up to UCLA one morning, he told me that he had been praying. He sweetly said, "I'm really trying, Honey." It was during this time that Michael had to spend five days in the hospital. When I wasn't with him at the hospital, I was staying nearby at his sister's.

I had been talking to his sister about his faith issues, and we talked about how he believed that his cancer was his karmic punishment for breaking up with his ex-girlfriend. She thought that was as ridiculous as I did, and while her beliefs are somewhat different than mine, she was happy to talk to him about why his thinking was erroneous. She had some really good points and examples to share with him that poked more holes in his thinking. Michael really respected Cathie's opinions and arguments, and I think they went a long way towards the decision he ended up making.

When Ray came back to see us on January 18th, he asked Michael if he had any questions or things he wanted to discuss. Michael said he didn't. He said he was ready to make a commitment and he told Ray, "Just tell me what I have to do. I want to go where my wife is going." He was crying at this point. It was such an emotional experience for all of us. We held his hands and Pastor Ray led Michael in prayer. Now we were all crying! It was a good cleansing cry - the release of carrying such a heavy burden.

In my opinion, that was the most significant day in Michael's life up to that point, and it was the best decision he ever made.

Anticipating that Michael probably had some questions, Pastor Ray had brought with him a DVD about Jesus. After he left, we watched parts of it together. It was organized into questions and answers from theologians like Ravi Zacharias and Lee Strobel. Michael was able to choose the questions he was most interested in, and then listen to the responses.

From that day on, I saw Michael's simple childlike faith in Jesus become more and more evident. He was too tired and weak to spend time reading the Bible or anything else for that matter, but we watched DVDs of Pastor Bayless together. Michael began to lead us in prayer. His prayers were simple and heartfelt.

He even acknowledged his newfound faith with family and friends when they came to visit. Some were Christians, too, and they rejoiced with us and we prayed together. Others were atheists, and Michael had the nerve to tell them that he was "becoming more religious". Maybe they thought he was crazy, but they didn't show it. Instead they were understanding and respectful. When some of his cousins came for a visit, he asked if we could all pray together. And on the day we sat in Dr. K's office with our mothers, and got the horrible news that there was nothing more he could do for us, Michael led the four of us in praying the Lord's Prayer.

When his good friend Eric came for a visit one day a couple of weeks before he passed, Michael asked him how he came to Jesus. Michael knew Eric had been raised in a Jewish home and he was curious about his conversion. Eric said that he'd always known there was something about Jesus, and when he was a teenager his Christian friends shared their faith with him and he accepted Christ. Then Michael shared that when he was a little boy Jesus seemed to be everywhere to him. If he went under the water, Jesus was there. If he looked up at the sky, Jesus was there, too.

I praise God that when Michael "looked up" on January 18th, Jesus was there. And when he breathed his last breath on March 7th that Jesus was there, too. When my grief weighs me down, I remind myself that Michael is waiting for me in the present Heaven, and we will have all of eternity on the New Earth to make up for the time that's been lost here. It's a comfort I would not have known if Michael's spiritual journey hadn't ended at the foot of the Cross.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Michael's Spiritual Journey {Part 3}

By the end of December last year, it was obvious that the cancer was getting the upper hand. Michael was really struggling physically. As concerned as I was about his health, I was even more concerned about his relationship with God. I wanted both of us to have the certainty that if he lost his battle with cancer, that he'd enjoy eternal life by faith in Christ and that I'd see him again. I'm selfish like that.

At this point, you may be asking yourself why evangelical Christians (like me) are so "narrow minded" about how one gets to Heaven. Don't all "good" people go to Heaven? I know this the way a lot of people think, and I really don't want to engage in a debate about it. But I don't think you can really understand why this was so important to me if you don't understand my belief system. I will tell you that it's because we (evangelical Christians) believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and that it reveals God's plan and purposes for His people past, present, and future.

For instance, we believe the words of Christ in John 14:6:

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me."

And the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:8-10:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”[a](that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

And here's one most of us have heard - John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

I'm not any kind of expert on apologetics, but if you'd like to read more in that vein, I highly recommend Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, by Ravi Zacharias who is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant Christian writers and speakers alive today.

During this time, I was praying for the Lord to send godly men into Michael's life to share their faith with him. I knew it would mean more to him to hear it from another man he respected than for me to keep bringing it up. This is where Pastor Ray came in to our lives. I had not met Pastor Ray at church, nor did I know who he was as he is not the senior (preaching) pastor at Cottonwood. But, my mother-in-law had met Ray last fall, and she had known his parents for a long time. She had told me about Pastor Ray after meeting him, and he had been in the back of my mind ever since. I truly believe their meeting was no coincidence - it was the hand of God working in our lives.

So, I called Pastor Ray, told him about our situation, and I asked him to come out to the house and meet with us. When I let Michael know that we'd be having a visitor, who it was, and the reason for his visit, he wasn't that enthusiastic. So, I told him that it would also be a blessing for me to meet with Pastor Ray and have him pray with us. I said that I needed this visit, and Michael seemed to understand that.

The first time Pastor Ray came to see us he shared a bit about himself. We knew he was Filipino-American like Michael. We learned that he'd been raised Catholic - like Michael. Right there they had some common ground. He shared with us how as a young man he'd gotten involved with a gang and was living a dangerous life. One night a friend of his was killed in a bar brawl, and that hit Ray like a ton of bricks. He thought That could have been me! Faced with his own mortality, he sought out a friend who was a Christian. That friend shared the gospel with Ray and he committed his life to the Lord. If you met Ray today, you'd never imagine him as some gang banger. He is so approachable, gentle, and compassionate. He has been transformed by the Holy Spirit.

After sharing that much about himself, he asked Michael about his beliefs. Michael didn't really answer the question, but he did say that he'd spent a lot of time in churches as a paid musician and that it all seemed like a big show to him. What he was saying was that he doubted the authenticity of churches and the people in them. Ray briefly addressed that, and then he gently reiterated his initial question to Michael. What did he believe?

To be concluded tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Michael's Spiritual Journey {Part 2}

After Michael expressed that he thought I might be the one to lead him to Christ, I think we agreed to read Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. I'm pretty sure this was his idea as he already had a copy of the book at home. The plan was to discuss it together as we read it. However, that never happened. As I remember, we got caught up in our emotions for each other and all we wanted to do was make out. As much fun as that was, in retrospect, I wish I'd kept him at arm's length until we'd had a chance to read and discuss that book.

That part of our relationship was rather short-lived. We ended things in the fall of 1994, and it was several years before we began seeing each other again. By this time, my own walk had become compromised. My "god" was having a relationship with Michael. I don't mean that I was no longer a believer in Christ, but that I was not pursuing Him first and foremost. I was pursuing Michael. I loved Michael and I wanted us to marry and have a family together. Believe it or not, it took a lot of convincing to get him to see things my way!

By the time we got married, he still hadn't become a Christian, but he respected my beliefs and he agreed with me that any children of ours would be raised in the church. He saw that his niece Kiana, and my nieces Rebecca and Sarah, were really grounded. He said he thought their faith and involvement at church had a big influence on their attitudes and behaviors. He wanted to have good kids like them. He was really afraid we'd have unruly teenagers someday. I think he was thinking back on all the stuff he'd done as a teenager!

After we got married, my faith began to grow. When confronted with the difficulties of infertility, I made a choice to draw close to God and trust Him with our situation. I freely shared the things I was learning with Michael, but I didn't beat him over the head with a Bible. I would just tell him about new things I'd learned in my personal Bible study or at church. It was just part of our everyday conversation. Maybe he thought I was nuts, but he didn't show it. As a side note, Michael was always impressed with how I'd know all the answers to any Bible-based category on Jeopardy! Hey, all those years of Sunday School come in handy for that sort of thing.

When he was diagnosed with cancer, Michael readily accepted anyone praying for him. I began to pray over him daily and he was totally fine with that. He would also let me read passages from the Bible to him. But when I'd inquire as to whether or not he was talking to God in prayer, he admitted that he wasn't. I encouraged him to do so and pointed out that if faith was going to be a part of his recovery, then he couldn't just count on the faith of his family and friends. I told him that he needed to have faith, too. I don't know what he thought about that, but as the months progressed I sensed that he was being very passive about the spiritual aspect to his life, and that really concerned me.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Michael's Spiritual Journey {Part 1}

A week or so after Michael's memorial service, I got a call from a musician friend of his. I think this guy might have been a member of the swing band Michael played with for many years. Anyway, he wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed the service but that he'd heard from other people who were there (he didn't name names) that they didn't appreciate the "Christian message" aspect to it. In fact, he said they had said that they would have preferred it if the service had just ended after the tribute video. Needless to say, I was taken aback.

Now the guy who called me is a Christian, so he didn't have a problem with it, but he thought it would be great if I'd write a letter or something to these other people and explain how Michael came to be a Christian because they had not known that side of him. I don't know who I thought was being more ridiculous - the people who had complained initially, or the guy I was listening to.

I told him I didn't think that anything from me was going to change their hearts. After all, Pastor Ray's message was low key, and it was just part of the whole. He spoke a bit about Michael's spiritual journey, what Christ has to offer all of us, and the choice we all have to make in regards to the gospel - accept it or reject it. You know, some people come to a service like that looking for spiritual direction in the wake of their loss. Hearing the gospel message might be a turning point for them, and as Christians we are called to share the gospel with the world.

Anyway, I have heard these sorts of complaints from other people about Christian memorial services before. They are heartless and in the worst taste. Really, who goes to any kind of funeral/memorial service and then complains about the way it's done? It's not a movie or a show to be critiqued. Come on people! What happened to if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all? People bend over backwards to be politically correct about all kinds of things, but Christian bashing is okay apparently. Whatever...

Anyway , since then I have been wanting to write here about Michael's spiritual journey - the journey that led him to the Cross. Michael had been raised in a Catholic home. His mother saw to it that he was baptized and received his first communion, but when he was still rather young she told him (and his brothers and sisters) that he didn't have to go to church anymore. So, he didn't. If my parents had told me that when I was a kid, I would have made the same choice. I thank the Lord that wasn't an option for me. By the time we met, he was agnostic at best, and he had some philosophies that he loosely adhered to that were based in Eastern religions. He liked to refer to himself as "spiritual".

When I first met Michael back in 1992 or 1993, it was because of our involvement at church. I've written here before that I was a volunteer singer on the worship team, and he was a hired musician in the praise band. That's how we got to know each other. When we first started spending large amounts of time talking, I remember him saying to me that perhaps I was the one who would lead him into a relationship with Christ. At the time, I didn't really know what to make of that. Was he serious? Was that what he wanted me to do? If so, how was I supposed to do that?

To be continued...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day Past & Present

I am used to Mother's Day being difficult. I have spent the last five years trying to become a mother through adoption and fertility treatments, and I have not succeeded. Each Mother's Day is kind of a signpost pointing to the failure of those efforts.

On the other hand, I am blessed to still have my mother and the occasion to honor her on Mother's Day. I know for many people the day is a painful reminder of the mother they have lost.

Last Mother's Day weekend (2009) was a lot of fun. I thought about it all last week. Michael was performing out in Las Vegas that weekend, and we invited anyone who was interested in going to join us. Michael's parents and his aunt and uncle went, so did my parents, my Aunt Maureen, and my grandmother. And, because my cousin Amy who lives in Las Vegas was celebrating her 50th, my great aunt (her mom) and my cousin Ken (her brother) were out there, too. Not to mention, two of Michael's younger brothers live in Henderson. So, it was a big group of us. Michael arranged for our families to see the show. It was the only time my parents had the chance to see him perform. I'm so glad they were able to do that.

On Mother's Day, Michael gave me a card - my first Mother's Day card. That was very thoughtful considering. He appreciated everything I'd done to become a mother and he knew it broke my heart that our IVF hadn't worked. But we were both still hopeful that the summer would bring good news. His card read:

To My Wife
How beautiful is Love
and how beautiful is Life
For one very simple reason
Because you are my wife.
Happy Mother's Day

He wrote, "and hopefully soon to be mother... I love you. Michael"

I love that guy...

We met up with our families for brunch at The Original Pancake House. It was so good to be all together like that. Little did we know that it would be the last Mother's Day we'd celebrate with Michael and my grandmother.

Yesterday wasn't easy, but it was nice. My mother-in-law had invited me and my parents to join them for dinner. It wasn't the whole family, just a small group of us. My sweet sister-in-law Cathie prepared a delicious dinner, my mom brought an incredible dessert, and we just enjoyed our time together. We were all aware of what has been lost since this time last year, but there was comfort in spending the time together.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Two Months

We used to recognize the 11th of each month as a little anniversary of our wedding day. I started it, but Michael caught on and kept it going. Sometimes he would take me by surprise by saying, "Happy anniversary, Honey." But it would only take me a moment to realize that it was the 11th of any given month. It was one of those sweet little things we shared.

The last time we did that was in January. Come the 11th of February we were at UCLA receiving the terrible news that there was nothing more the doctors could do for us. That little anniversary just wasn't on our minds.

Now the day of the month that I'm hypersensitive to is the 7th. Along with counting Sundays, I'm now counting the months since he left this world.

For me there are two ways of looking at the time as it passes. One way is to think of it as moving me away from our time together, and that's what I do when I'm looking back. The other way is to think of it as two months closer to the time I will see him again, and I'm able to do that when I'm looking forward and keeping things in an eternal perspective.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I went to church last night after spending a lot of the day feeling blue. Before I could even sit down and set my things down, a pretty young woman approached me. She had the tiniest baby on her hip, and I knew who she was right away even though we hadn't met before. It was Pastor Ray's wife Serena.

She sat down with me and told me that they pray for me every day. She said she was heartbroken to hear about what had happened to Michael, especially since we'd been married for such a short time, and that she'd seen the video tribute to him online. She commented on how handsome and talented he was, and then she said something that really touched my heart. She said that she is looking forward to meeting him someday. I must have looked surprised because she quickly clarified that she was looking forward to meeting him when she gets to Heaven.

The service started about that time and we so said our goodbyes, but I was left with a good feeling because she will get to meet Michael someday.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Today is Cinco de Mayo. Not a terribly important holiday to me personally, but nevertheless one that made me stop and think about what we were doing this time last year.

I remember coming home from work and wanting to go some place where we could get a taco and a margarita. I think I had to push Michael to go out that night. I don't remember why. Maybe he was feeling tired, but this was before he was diagnosed so our life was still normal. We ended up at El Torito and they had super cheap drinks and food in their bar area. We left before it got too crowded and noisy. That's all I remember. Aside from it being Cinco de Mayo it could have been any other night after work as we frequently went out to eat.

Remembering this earlier today intensified my grief. I've just been missing him like crazy. We had such a nice life together.

I think this is just a taste of what's to come in the months, and perhaps years to come. There will be many occasions and dates on the calendar that bring back memories and refresh my grief. People experiencing these kind of things in the first year after a loved one's death refer to them as "firsts". I wish there were some way to avoid them, but I know there isn't.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Rant

It's been eight weeks since Michael "relocated", and I just feel like complaining this morning. Isn't that nice?

One of the points in Grief Share this week was in order to receive God's comfort and healing, I need to be honest and I need to bring my complaints to God like David did in many of the Psalms. That was really liberating to me, because I tend to rationalize, spiritualize, and intellectualize what has happened to me. In order to complain, I have to tap into my feelings - even if they're ugly. And they kind of are because grief isn't nice. It's not fair, polite, or refined in any way.

So here goes.

I just finished my Grief Share journaling exercises for the day. One question that elicited a strong response from me was this one:

How does it feel to be around other people who
have not yet experienced the death of a loved one?

I have to modify that question a bit, because within my Grief Share group and in discussions with other people I find that it's beyond that. In my experience, it goes beyond the death of a loved one more specifically to the death of a spouse. It's a unique experience, as are all losses.

My response to this question is that people who haven't lost a spouse don't really get it. That's not to say that everyone who hasn't lost a spouse is without understanding or empathy, but I have found that they are more likely to say dumb, insensitive things. For instance, I've been told that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. {Insert me rolling my eyes and then gagging myself with my finger.} If I weren't the kind of person who tries to respond to others politely I might have said what I really think about that kind of stupid cliche, No, it's better to be with the one you love than to have him get an incurable cancer and die too young after you've only been married for a couple of years and you're blissfully happy and trying to make babies!!!

Can I get an amen?

Another couple of things that have rubbed me the wrong way are things I've read in two different books about the death of a spouse. The first is about wedding rings. The books advise that you eventually remove your rings because they give others the wrong impression about your marital status. Well, no kidding!

I'm in no hurry to remove my rings, and I've been wearing Michael's wedding band on the middle finger of my right hand. Seriously, removing one's rings has got to be one of the last things one does in the grief process. There's no point in removing your rings unless you are ready to start dating. I envy women who are widowed later in life and have no desire to marry again. They can wear their rings for the rest of their lives if they like and no one will think twice about it.

The other recommendation is for the bereaved to put away pictures of the deceased. You have got to be joking! I'm supposed to remove all traces of my husband's existence from my life? Who does that really help? It helps anyone else who is uncomfortable with the fact that I'm a widow - that's who! But it wouldn't help me. There are pictures all over the house of Michael and of us together. They are a comfort to me.

There has got to be a healthy way to honor my love for Michael and move forward without stripping my life of the things that symbolize our life together. Thankfully, I do know that I am free to figure out what that looks like without having someone else tell me how to do it.

And with that, I conclude my rant.