Finding the Goodness of Grief

It seems impossible to say. It seems impossible to be at this point. It seems impossible that 16 months have passed since Andrew died. The statement, “all things are possible with God,” comes to my mind. Had it not been for my faith these past 16 months I can’t imagine where or how I would be right now.

Grief is a tumultuous turn of emotions, you feel everything and nothing all at once. Pain so deep you don’t think you can stand, fear so sharp it cuts to the bone, your heart and body hurts, your mind spins in the web of memories and sometimes clarity is a fleeting thing you can’t quite grasp. Grief is different for everyone, a wound that never truly heals and always leaves a scar. The healing time is different for everyone as well. You cannot gauge your healing against someone else’s. There is no, “this is how it’s done, and now you are good.” It is not something you can do and check off your list.

I had to wade through all of my feelings, like sloshing through Mississippi mud, which during a pandemic hasn’t been easy. The isolation and the pain were not friends, but they were inseparable. There were days when I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep. There were times I just needed someone to stay with me and hug me and tell me everything would be all right, but no one was there. There were times when friends would stop by or call and encourage me, but not as often as I needed. More often than not, I was alone with my feelings and had to learn how to keep my head up when waves of grief crashed over me.

The valley seemed the deepest six months after his passing. Life had gone back to normal for everyone else, the world was still spinning and time was moving forward. But it was moving forward without him, without us. I had to come to grips that I was no longer part of a we and I couldn’t remember how to be just me.

My church was the hardest place for me. Not because I blamed God, but because that was something we did together. It was our place, our relationship was better there, he was better there. After he was gone, I couldn’t bear, still can’t bear, to be there without him. I still deeply love my church family, but I have never felt so crushed by the weight of being alone as the times I went back through those doors. I still watch online and don’t have that feeling.

I know things have a season and during my prayers, I feel God pulling me to find a space that is mine, where I can explore who I am becoming. Where I can be a Me, and not be under the shadow of the We. My church family still loves me and has supported me through all of this and for that I am thankful. There may be a time to go back, but that time is not yet.

I have to say, the thing that saved me was that my tribe let me tell stories and relive memories that made me laugh and smile at the good life and love I felt when Andy was alive. They let me know it was ok to cry and take a moment when I needed it.

The goodness in my grief was the joy God gave me through the telling of those stories, those treasured memories that not only made me laugh but also made others laugh as well. The laughter healed my soul in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I could feel God’s hand leading me through the hardest moments and my deepest valleys. I leaned deeply on God’s wisdom on how to put one foot in front of the other. He made a way when I saw no way.

My other saving grace during this time is the beautiful relationship with my stepdaughter. She pulled me into a family I never thought I would get to experience. We shared a love for a man we both dearly miss. And her sarcasm and mannerisms remind me of him so very much it touches my heart. She has given me the biggest blessing during this season of grief, I had the honor of being called grandma for the first time and about to be a grandma for the second time. Getting to be a part of their lives is a gift I am so very fortunate to have, it takes my breath away.

Lately, I feel that it is time to say goodbye for now to my beloved, to give him the proper honors he deserves for his service. I know I will see him when my time is done, but for now, God still has work for me here. On May 27th I will have a military service to honor his memory and inter his ashes.

We were married on the Friday before Memorial Day during our lunch hour, so I felt it was appropriate to say goodbye for now in the same fashion. He would find it more than a fitting tribute.

I know he would never want me to stay in a state of sadness, he loved it when we laughed together and he loved making me laugh. I can hear him in my head laughing now, telling me it is time to move forward and have some fun. Those of you who knew him, know the truth in this.

Thank you to my tribe, for loving me and taking care of me. You all matter more than words can say.

Early Traveling Memories

1997 Snow in our little Neon, trekking around Germany

In November of 2021, I traveled to Germany to meet my granddaughter for the first time. It was a beautiful trip. Even in the midst of COVID where regulations kept us from doing the things my stepdaughter had planned for us. We were unable to go to the zoo, the Christmas markets were all closed down. We had to wear FFP2 masks, show our vaccination cards every time we ate out, and take COVID tests before meeting with others, but none of those things curbed my enthusiasm at getting to be a part of a family I never thought I’d have.

While I would love to share a million photos of my sweet little girl and the budding relationship we have, I won’t be doing that in this post. Instead, I am going to share a memory of the grandfather she wasn’t able to meet. It is my prayer that as she grows up she will have a little glimpse of the good things about her Opa.

The first time I traveled to Germany was in October 1997. Andy was a Seargent in the Army and had just been assigned to HHC 141st Signal Battalion in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. He arrived a month before I did to secure housing.

We had only been married a little over a year, and much of our first year married, we spent apart as he was going through military training for a new job in Fort Gordon, Georgia. During that first year we spent a lot of time making the trip from Fort Campbell to Fort Gordon, and long weekends were the things we looked forward to the most.

Originally he was supposed to be sent to Korea, but luckily, his orders were changed and we were set for Germany. He was so excited to go back, his first tour was in Germany and his daughter was there.

Once he got his orders, I was left in charge of packing up the house stateside, while he got housing in Germany. This was before cell phones and international calling was not an easy thing. There was no instant messaging or social media. The phones were still wired to the walls (if you can believe it?)! There was email, but the internet was not easily accessed and if someone called while you were trying to send an email, your internet connection was lost. So communication was not a daily thing once he was in Germany, and the time difference caused a few difficulties.

Once I got the house packed up, I had two weeks to wait before my flight to Germany. A dear work friend let Snow our white Siberian husky and I stay with them until our flight.

A few days before my flight I thought I should give Snow a bath so he would be travel-ready, but being in an unfamiliar place in a new neighborhood, bathtime soon went wrong. Huskies are escape artists, and Snow got away from me. I just knew that when the next phone call came from Andy he was going to divorce me because I lost his dog. I was beside myself, spinning the worst-case scenario, I nearly lost my mind.

When I finally spoke with Andy, he was much calmer than I expected and told me he just wanted me to get to Germany safe and sound. He said he would meet me in Frankfurt and pick me up, everything would be ok.

Thankfully we found Snow, who was covered in red clay mud, two days later, just a day before the flight, thanks to the persistence of my boss, David, who drove around searching for the dog for hours on end. I was so thankful and excited that I was finally making my way there, with the dog.

I don’t sleep while traveling, between being anxious and being excited, I just can’t shut down. I flew from Nashville to Atlanta, to Frankfurt, Germany. By the time I hit the ground in Germany, I had been awake for 24 hours. The flight, a contracted military flight, was horrible. The seat didn’t recline, the headphones didn’t work, they seated me in between two huge guys with shoulders so wide they were a third of the way into my seat. I couldn’t move much at all. Snow was in the belly of the plane, on Benedryl to keep him calm. I was the one who needed something to keep calm. This was only my second flight, ever. But I made it with a sigh of relief when the plane touched down at Frankfurt.

Once we touched down and deplaned at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt. I got my luggage and the dog, (who post officials wouldn’t let me take out of the crate!) we made our way to the area where everyone was being picked up either by their units or by their significant others. While I waited, I saw numerous exuberant reunions, people meeting up with hugs and kisses. I waited, and I waited and I waited until I was the only person left from the plane. My anxiety rose and my calm deteriorated. I sat outside on a park bench with the dog, near tears, looking at the entrance where everyone else came and went.

Charmin and Andrew in Hohenschwangau near Füssen, Germany

After about 2 hours a Lieutenant came out and brought me a cup of coffee and asked me what unit my husband was with and what post I was going to? I had no idea. I hadn’t written it down and I was so out of sorts I couldn’t remember. Poor Lt., I broke into tears and he had no idea what to do to help me, so he went back into the airport. It was then that our little green Plymouth Neon made its way into the parking lot.

I have never been so relieved and pissed off at the same time. I remember being there with the dog crate and the dog crying and me crying and jumping up on the park bench waving and cussing at being left so long. Andy jumped out of the car before it came to a complete stop and gave me a huge bear hug, the whole time I am crying and fussing. He apologized because he was so excited that he didn’t sleep the night before, he said he must have fallen asleep about two hours before he was supposed to leave. He didn’t hear the alarm clock, so he overslept. He was as distraught as I was, he couldn’t stop apologizing as he broke down the dog crate. Snow had to sit on my lap on the drive back to Bad Kreuznach in order to get the dog crate and the luggage in the little car.

Andy was so disappointed in himself, he was so excited to show me the new apartment and to take me around the little town. Whenever things didn’t go the way he envisioned he would get stubborn, and irritated with himself, but then he would come around to being understanding. It took a minute before we could both laugh about the situation and I always felt his disappointment at disappointing me. That was never a feeling he was comfortable with and the disappointments of his life bothered him.

I know that he would be disappointed that I had to make this latest trip without him and that breaks my heart just a little. But I also know that he would be overjoyed to see the person his daughter is, the family she has surrounding her, and the beautiful little girl that has his stubborn streak. Maybe the next little girl will have his sense of humor.

I am thankful his daughter has his wit, humor, and love, and even more thankful that she does not have her father’s timing. She and her husband were at the airport waiting on me as soon as I made my way onto the concourse. I think Opa was smiling in heaven as I made this trip. I am already looking forward to the next one.

Happy Anniversary, Baby

Hello again, my life has been upended since my last post. My world shattered into a million sparkling pieces, each piece a memory, some are smooth and reflective and some are jagged and cut deep. I’ve been encouraged to write about the memories, to share the wisdom, the pain, the joy, and the humor that God has given me on this journey.

On November 11th, Veteran’s Day, my husband died. It was his favorite holiday, where he saluted and shared veteran stories, and spent time with the older guard to hear their stories. It was a reverent day for him and now it will always be for me.

It wasn’t COVID, we didn’t know it was coming. He went to work on November 10th, like it was any other day, and he had a massive stroke on a job site. He was life-flighted to UT hospital where they removed several clots, and they were hopeful he would recover somewhat, but he stroked again in the middle of the night.

How I wish I had that morning to do over again. I would have held him a little longer, kissed him a little deeper, but I sent him on his way with a quick “I love you. See you tonight, and keep me posted on your day.” I know he knew I loved him, but I needed more time.

Best Anniversary Gift EVER! Surprise Vow Renewal.

We had been together for 26 years. Married for 24 years, this year on May 30th, it would have been 25 years. The running joke between us was that he would never be able to top our 15th wedding anniversary. Listen up husbands, because Andrew set the bar really high, he knew how to bring out the big guns and make things special. He paid attention and he GOT me, he knew WHO I was and what MATTERED to me. I didn’t need lots of pomp and circumstance, or extravagant gifts, I needed laughter, honesty, loyalty, and love and he gave me all of those in abundance.

Our wedding was on May 30th close to Memorial Day, a military 4-day weekend. We both had to work that day but agreed to meet at the Montgomery County clerk’s office during our lunch hour. We paid $15 to get married and I still say it was the best $15 we ever spent! I remember we both cried because the county commissioner, Joe Creek, who married us, did the most beautiful ceremony. I wished we had videos or photos of it, but we were so poor at the time we didn’t even own a camera. Andy was in fatigues and I was in office attire, we had sliver bands, not gold. Andy loved to tell folks he took me to McDonald’s for our reception and he let me supersize. He went back to the flight line at Ft. Campbell and I went back to the office, where my boss got me a funeral arrangement of flowers and laughed that we really knew how to throw a wedding! The party of life began after we got home that evening.

Now fast forward 15 years, 2011. The few months before our wedding, he was making plans, he had every person in the church in on it and kept it close to the vest. I didn’t know a thing. On the morning of our anniversary, he told me to wear a dress I liked and meet him in the car. It was Memorial Day weekend and he usually did something to honor fallen veterans, so I didn’t think anything about it. He had invited some of our family, friends, and coworkers to church and to lunch afterward.

Still, it didn’t set off any warning bells that he was up to something. After the service, Andy went to the front and I thought, “ok, he’s going to read a poem or something about fallen soldiers and how freedom isn’t free.” He then asked me to the front of the church, got down on one knee, and asked me to marry him again! I was not prepared, I had bubble gum in my mouth and no place to put it. I chewed gum through the whole thing, like a cow chewing cud. I was so taken aback I didn’t even know what was coming next. He asked our pastor at the time Clarence if he would marry us again. Here I am in black, 25 lbs heavier than I should be and I am getting married, AGAIN. Did it matter that I was fluffy, dressed in black, and chewing gum? No! Not in the least bit.

The fact that he wanted to give me a wedding with family and friends around me, a community of people who loved us, spoke more to me than any diamond ever could. If I had waited on a perfect dress, perfect venue or a perfect body, I would have missed the greatest moment. A moment I now treasure even more because I won’t have another anniversary with him this side of heaven.

I couldn’t believe how the folks in the church came together for me. He told them we had never had a real reception or a fancy cake, so Jackie Ervin made me the most beautiful cake with purple butterflies on it, they decorated the fellowship hall in purple, everyone brought food, we ate and hugged and laughed and friends made a mess of my car, but it was a glorious day, a day I never expected, but God knew I would need it one day in the future to look back on and know that Andy loved me that much, that God loved me that much.

Some memories are beautiful, but they can still be painful in the midst of grief. I believe we have to feel all the feelings that come and deal with it as it happens. I found the video going through photos and it brought the day flooding back, making me laugh and cry all at the same time. In grief, you feel every emotion in moments’ time.

This is not the life I wanted, I am not happy about it, I am angry, frustrated and alone, but I have a sense of peace. Andy wouldn’t have wanted to be here if he was unable to be himself. His advanced directive stated as much. Even when he had a cold, he was not a good patient, so I know that’s true.

It is hard to see the next step right now. When you are in the valley you can’t see the beauty of what God is doing until you climb to the mountain top and see where you’ve been and how God has brought you through. God works everything for His good. Even from the terrible heartbreak, I feel now, I know God will use it somehow. If we tramp down the feelings, ignore them or run away from them, we don’t heal. I believe God uses our tears to cleanse our souls and heal our hearts, but we have to share our tears with Him.

I”m closing for now, thanks for reading. I will share more once I’ve stocked up on Kleenex.

Blessings and peace,

Charmin

Godspeed, how fast are you going?

I am blessed to work in a place that values God, people and community. We start each Monday with a time of group devotions. This helps me keep my focus on what matters thoughout my week.

Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

Last Monday’s devotional brought me to my knees and made me take a hard look at how I serve others. When you work for a ministry or nonprofit it is all too easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed because the needs of our city are so great. Sometimes you wonder if what you do truly matters, are you making a difference? That is when we have to slow down and remember who we serve.

Our world moves too fast. Can you imagine how our community would change if we just took our time with people? This 30-minute video reminded me that Godspeed is not our speed, we tend to fly by in our own little world at 55 miles an hour when we really need slow down and walk at 3 miles per hour with those we serve. So take some time, slow down for a bit, watch and let me know what you think. https://vimeo.com/200206468

Celebrate when you can…

By Charmin Foth

while_you_were_out__largjpgWith Valentine’s Day in my rearview mirror, I am reminded of my first Valentine’s Day married to Andy.

When we met, and for 8 years after, Andy was a Seargent in the U.S. Army. Being an Army wife wasn’t always easy and sometimes it was downright hard. But the struggles we faced together made us stronger as individuals and as a couple.

Most couples find that the first year of marriage is always hard because you are getting used to one another’s habits and traits. Sometimes finding common ground can seem almost impossible. That wasn’t the case for us. We are in sync, we have always been able to finish each other’s sentences, to the point that we seem know each other’s thoughts and say what the other is thinking.

Still the first year Andy and I were married was a difficult one. We were married the last day of May and in September he was sent to an Army school for training and we were separated for a year almost to the day.

Our first Valentine’s Day didn’t happen on February 14th. On February 14th I was alone, working 14-hour-days and I knew Andy wasn’t coming home during that time. We didn’t have any money, so I couldn’t afford to send him something expensive to let him know I was thinking of him. So, I did something a little unconventional and something I do well, I wrote him notes.

I took one of those little “while you were out” pink message pads that offices sometimes use, and for every day he was gone, I wrote a note. “While you were out… Today the dog got out and I had to chase him down the street, I wish you were here to see it.” “While you were out… Today was Saturday and I had to watch cartoons without you.” “While you were out… You won’t believe what happened to the neighbor.” “While you were out… I missed you terribly.”

You get the picture. Every day I wrote one of these notes. Some days it was my only way of communicating with him and he didn’t even know it. Some days were funny, some days were mushy, some days were sad. It was just a little glimpse of how my life was going that day, set aside just for him. We had a set of French doors at the back of the house and each day taped one of those notes on the door until I had one big heart outlined on the door. But Andy still didn’t get to come home, so I kept adding notes every day, with just little bits of how I felt while he was away. I filled in the heart with at least 100 notes.

When he finally did get to come home for a visit, he pulled into the drive and made his way in through the French doors, where all he could see from the light burning inside the house was a hundred little pink “while you were out” notes. It was one of the best Valentine’s Day celebrations we had, and it wasn’t anywhere near February 14th and it didn’t cost us hundreds of dollars. I still remember him pulling each note off the door, reading them, laughing and his eyes tearing up as he made his way through each note. He read them all and he knew I had thought of him, every single day, even when we couldn’t talk. He knew he was loved and I loved him all the more for taking the time to appreciate the small stuff.

That year I learned the hard way that the Army way of life meant celebrating when you can, not by the date on the calendar. It taught me that sometimes you can be separated for what seems like an eternity, but that doesn’t mean you love each other any less. And, that if you can survive the heartache of being alone, you can celebrate the joy of being together, and it makes the moments you have together more special. Sometimes you don’t get to hear the words “I love you,” when you would like, but you keep the faith that the love is still there.

Learning these lessons made my life as an Army wife easier, they made my life better. They weren’t easy lessons to learn but I thank God every day that I was able to take those lessons to heart.

So, remember to celebrate the moments of life together, when you can, not based on the calendar. It’s not about the quantity of time you have together or about the quality of the gifts you receive,  it’s about the quality of time you have together, the meaning of the gifts you give and the depth of the love you share.

Happy Valentine’s Day, no matter what day it is.

Thanks for reading.

Reposted from 2011