Tag Archives: loss

Shocked by Grief & Shock

I love peanut butter. Really, all kinds of peanut butter. But I also know that I don’t really love it. I like it a lot. But I don’t have a deep, intimate connection with the stuff. I know that I don’t really love it because I know what it truly means to love something & be loved. I am loved by God, & in response to that incredible & faultless love, I love my wife, our kids, & a large handful of some wonderful family & friends. And if I’m honest, I really do love our dog, Abbey & possibly the Chicago Cubs too. But I know love. I don’t love peanut butter.

And if you had asked me earlier this month, I’d have said that I knew what grief & shock were all about. I’d have told you a list of things that ‘grieved’ me or had shocked me in my life. But then last Monday, in the earliest part of the day, one of my best friends, favorite people in general, inexplicably breathed his last breath…..

And right there, in that moment. When a few hours had past, his family was just in the wee hours of that horrific tragedy, I got one call that placed an emptiness in my heart or stomach, or maybe my soul, & I haven’t truly shaken it. It’s like wishing for your ears to pop as your flight begins its descent home, but that pop never comes. I can’t do anything with the empty feeling of grief & the shock of this loss. I thought it would pop when I saw his wife or high-fived his children. When his mom & dad gave me that first hug, I was certain that the grief would break & I would start processing the shock of it all. But I was wrong.

Tripp was not just my buddy. And a few of his friends aren’t simply mutual acquaintances. And his family aren’t just folks that raised him. His wife isn’t just the nice girl he married. These are my people too. I love his wife. His family has always loved me. I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t love someone in his family. And very quickly, once I had confirmed the awfulness of last week, I pictured some of the funniest, most sincere friends I have ever known. And it really just compounded the grief & fortified the shock.

And like a dutiful minister, I went to the Bible & to prayer. I have desperately wanted to find a plan for closing the grief-hole in all of our hearts. But instead, I found out that God is daily grieved. That Christ was deeply familiar with grief. And that the Bible doesn’t tell me when this hurt will subside. And that is challenging for a man of faith to process. But that’s just what I’m doing. I’m processing it. Every day I have thought of my friend. And it doesn’t stop the hurt. Sometimes the thoughts inflame my emotions into tears. But I give into the daydream because, honestly, I trust God that like my body digests food naturally, I will just process my mourning naturally as well.

Whenever you eat something your body takes the process of digestion as a challenge. Separating the good bits from the bad, utilizing the good for the sake of energy, health, cleansing & clarity. The bad bits, & depending on what you eat, it might mostly be bad bits, pass through & either hurt your overall health or become the waste that they are, & you know how that ends. So here’s the question I’m pouring over as I fly home (deeply grateful for JetBlue’s free wifi!!):

What Am I Grieving? Where is the Shock Resting?

And I think I’m discovering there’s a healthy grieving & a harmful grieving, & I have to make the choice each morning, that I’m going to grieve healthy. So I am chewing on how great my friend was. I’m taking in the memories that are so precious to me. I’m committing to remember & hold on to the people that matter most to him. I’m remembering that while he can’t be the dad, husband, brother & son today that he’s always been, I still can be. So I think about my wife & kids a lot. And I cry. But it feels healthy. I’m not forgetting God. I’m not denouncing Christ or forfeiting my faith. I’m certainly not burning bridges or forcing myself to pretend I feel a way that I don’t feel. Tripp is in Heaven & that is more than enough cause for celebration & gratitude. Now, to be clear, I still confess to God all of my confusion & hurt. But God tells us to cast our burdens on Him, so I’m just being obedient. I’m not angry. I’m sad. I’m not hopeless or faithless, I’m just staggered & stunned by pain. And if anyone gets that, I trust that God does. And I don’t want to isolate or ignore my grief. I want all of those people in my life with me. I’d like to add some new folks too. If misery loves company, then healing wants the company to just move in & stay a while. And the worst way that I could honor Tripp is by distancing myself from faith & family right now… or ever!

So I’m going to keep on grieving. Just ask the woman in 9A. She’s on the plane right in front of me, with her 2yr old daughter & apologized just before take-off. I guess that’s what all traveling parents with children think about doing. And she just casually said, her Daddy is away for a while so ‘it’s just us’.

I immediately teared up. She looked mortified. I was embarrassed. Her husband is deployed in the Air Force & will be back next month. Good.

But a couple hours into the flight, when her daughter (who flies better than most adults) had fallen asleep, she turned around & asked if I was ok. So I just spilled it. I talked about how awesome Tripp was & how great his wife is & will continue to be. I told her about his family & friends, & how much I miss him. How badly I want to get off this plane & hug Grace & our boys, nonstop for about a month. And I told her where he was right now, with Christ. I spoke with hope. Yes, I choked up a couple times in those short minutes. And grief is still grief.

There’s still that awful pit in my stomach, reminding me that I’m not over it today. But it’s a process. It’s probably a slow process. But I’m getting all of the good bits out so I can use them forever. And it takes a while to digest two decades of great friendship. Missing him is just a part of loving him. And the next time someone mentions grief or shock, I’ll have a much better understanding of what they are going through. And this has helped me today.

I hope it helps someone else. Share this with anyone you want to. For now…

I don’t love peanut butter. I do love you, Tripp. I’ll see you later.

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Losing Your Calling, Learning to Dream

This is 2 years in the making, & could probably be edited, added to, & then completely deleted & rewritten for the rest of my life. But I’m 35 as I type this, & I don’t know my personal calling/purpose, & I haven’t had a dream for myself in well over a year. Closer to two years now, I guess.

I was in a car accident late into 2013, with my, then 4 year old, son. We walked away, & so did the lady that didn’t see her red light. All was fine for a month or so, & then I just started ‘drifting’. Losing focus at work & home. Tired all the time. Wildly unmotivated. And the numbness in my hand grew to a numbness throughout my whole left side by Christmas. And then in early January, I fell down a flight of steps because my left leg just lost its strength. 

There are details I could explain, but if you’re interested, look up hydrocephalus & emergency shunt revisions. The shunt had punctured my thalamus on the right side of my brain, & slowly the left side of my body turned off. I remember pieces of October, 2013 – March, 2014, but for the most part, it’s a lot of blanks. And somewhere in the surgeries, recovery, rehabilitation, & recovering feeling where it had been gone (the left side of my mouth still droops a bit), I lost the hope I had in my own future. 

A minister losing hope is a special kind of tragedy. 

I was a pastor once. I’ve seen saved & baptized people of all ages & walks of life, in Ohio, S. Carolina, Tennessee, & N. Carolina. I love preaching & teaching. And I really love being with people who want to grow closer to God. But I haven’t preached in a pulpit since August, 2010. And before the accident, it was a calling ‘on hold’. God had placed me in a season of growing & listening, & at that moment, I was enjoying it (if memory serves… & it might not. So forgive me if I’m ‘misremembering’ that). But then the doctor thought I had a tumor. Or I thought I was having the longest stroke in history. No matter what, I was breaking down physically, & the me I knew was gone. 

There’s a big scar on my head where a little one had been since 1985, when I had a surgery I can’t remember. I used to sleep comfortably on my right side. Now I wake up in the middle of the night in pain, because the right side of my head & neck is not what it used to be. I’m still trying to learn how to lay down comfortably. I worry a little just before I pick up my ever-growing 6 year old. I watch my step when I’m carrying his little brother, because I don’t trust my feet as much as I used to. And I wear out every day. It’s wild to see. And usually I can hide it at home. But last month, my boss & I were meeting & we were chatting about intentional growth for our team, & it hit me. The lights just dimmed so fast. I think I fell asleep. And I’d been working a normal 7-8 hour day. I just wear out. I’m trying to control it. I’ve pulled over on the drive home from work multiple times. I stand up in meetings sometimes. I can’t read while I’m reclined, & that was my favorite. But of all the things I’ve either lost or had changed on me, I miss my dreams the most. 

I was a dreamer, a ‘big ideas’ guy with my head up in the clouds. And I liked it up there. Quasi-philosophical, deeply theological, often surreal in my thoughts & expectations, & always guided by my wide-open passion for Christ. The flip side is that I was distant, rarely productive, scattered, & I hated trying to focus on stuff that didn’t interest me. But I was fun, I think. Goofy might be the best word. And I miss that guy. I wonder if Grace, my wife, misses him too. Because now I’m a pessimistic realist a majority of the time I wonder when the next big medical emergency is coming. (We’ve been married 8 years. I’ve had 3 surgeries, & 2 of them were pretty serious.) I worry a lot. And coincidentally, stress is great for your body & general health. 😳 But I see what has happened, & I’ve tried some things over the last year.

Goal-setting is not easy, & most people do it really incorrectly.

Being a recovering dreamer myself, I have found a good definition to my old ways of dreaming. I used to exclusively set Outcome Goals. For instance, I’d say I wanted to write a book, but never trouble myself with coming up with topics, writing often, or planning at all. ‘I’m gonna lose weight!!’ But I had no plan… Just a massive void of big ideas & fantasy-inspired dreams. And now I’m working on a new strategy, grounded in realism, but not bound to the pessimism & hopelessness that I’d define most all of 2014 with. Researchers & strategic analysts call this idea creating Input Goals. The plan is fundamentally very simple.

In order to write a book (outcome goal), I’m going to write for 15 minutes every day (input goal). In order to lose weight (outcome), I’m gonna walk/run/lift 3 times a week (input).

Simple right?

Setting goals is key to regaining your dream/calling… I think. 

So this is where I’m at now. I want my dreams back. I’d like to have some big goals, some long-term plans that don’t sound like a dude wondering about seeing his kids grow up (& that has been the entire goal set for longer than I care to think about). And I don’t really have a set destination. So here’s what I care about, & what I’m doing to achieve some things in those areas.

Family – We are paying into the debt that we have every month. Ultimately, I guess being debt-free is the desired outcome, but I’m sure there will be more to come for that. I also try to talk to Parker every day. He’s our oldest, & I don’t mean I’m trying to greet him or give him a life lesson a day. I mean a conversation. I want him to hear that I’m invested in him without me telling him that I am. And I want to go on dates with Grace. I like dating her a lot.

Leadership/Influence – I have 5-6 people that I intentionally speak to weekly about their lives, decisions, goals, & growth. I also have 2-3 that I ask for help from, as mentors of mine. I’m also trying to read/listen to something that stretches me every day (devotional, article, book, podcast, etc). And all of those because I want to lead well, & be a positive influence on all whom I come in contact with.

Faith – Simple. I want to open the Bible every day. I want to pray multiple times a day. Outcome goal… Forget ministry. I just want to be closer to Christ. If ministry is in my future, I’ll let Jesus tell me himself.

Social Media – I know it’s silly to some, but I love the stuff. So I’m trying to stay connected to this cultural tidal wave through several outlets, staying both relevant & true to myself. It’s fun. My newest adventure is Periscope. Find me there at brad_caldwell. 

Life is hard. Living ain’t so bad.

It’s been a bumpy season in my life lately. But I’m still upright. I’m still standing, though I lean a little to the left in some places. I feel better right now than I have in over a year. And I just blogged… one more input goal down.

Booyah. Leave me some wickedly inspiring comments!

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Filed under Christianity, faith, Goals, Growth, Uncategorized