small pieces of joy

pieces of joy in each day

the third

Monday marked the third anniversary of Dad’s passing from this world to the next.

The third year without Dad. Wow.

It seems like such a long time, but remembering the events from three years ago feels like just yesterday.

The past two years we have remembered Dad’s memorial day with something special. A service at the gravesite the first year, KSU football game and dinner at Texas Roadhouse the next.

This year I wanted to do something specific in honor of Dad, but it was hard to figure out what that would be.

We had a steak dinner at Mom’s and simply enjoyed family time, even though my youngest brother couldn’t make it.

I went home, put the kids to bed, and still felt like I needed to do something more to make the day feel complete. I had wanted to go to the gravesite by myself before dinner, but my husband got home late from work so I couldn’t do that. Then I was going to go after the kids went to bed, but now it gets dark early.

On a whim I left the house and drove to our church’s adoration chapel, thinking I had the code to get in. Nope. Wrong code. So I sat outside of the chapel, wondering if this was a sign or if I should wait for someone to come and let me in. After about 10 minutes I just decided to drive for a while and ended up in the cemetery at twilight.

Only a little creepy.

I turned the car off, started talking to Dad, then had a major cry-my-heart-out-tears-on-the-steering-wheel sob fest. As I was letting it all out, I still felt lost, like I needed to do something else.

I called my mom, and was at her house a few minutes later.

She held me and we cried. Cried about missing Dad, cried about the good memories, cried about the things he was missing, cried about what we thought he might be like today, cried about the whole crappy situation.

It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.

The thing is…grief is complicated. There is no amount of time to make losing my Dad OK. Just because it is three years out does not mean I’m not still hurting. Yes, I’m getting much better about living my life without him. I’ve come to terms he is not here and will not be here.

But I’m still hurting.

It hurts that I had to see him decline over 10 months, that I was a new mom, living in a different state, trying to juggle all my roles, while cancer was slowly sucking the life out of my big strong hero.

That will never be OK with me.

And all those things I mentioned are things I haven’t had time to really process. Because unfortunately, life continues to move after loss. So it takes a while to get to a place where the shock, agony, and pain can come through and be truly felt.

No, I am not stuck. No, I’m not dwelling on the loss. I’m actually moving forward in the best way I know how.

The best way for ME.

I’m learning about grief, I’m allowing myself to feel, and I’m sharing with others in hopes they can work through their pain too.

These past few years have been the most challenging years of my life, and looking back, also the years in which I have grown the most. For that I’m thankful.

The third year without Dad. Another step forward on a long path to healing.

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words of remembrance

As I’ve been working through my grief, I’m saddened I wasn’t able to give words of remembrance in the days following Dad’s passing from this life to the next. I’ve found that I wish I could have said something to everyone who came to his visitation. I wish I could have said something to everyone who prayed for his soul at this funeral mass. I wish I could have given tribute to dad with words from my heart.

Looking back I know there were many reasons why it didn’t happen. Everything worked out the way it needed to in those moments. Some people, myself included, were able to say things to Dad at his Celebration of Life party. That just wasn’t enough for me, especially since he was driving his electronic wheelchair away from me as I spoke!

I guess it is never too late to write the words I would have liked to share with everyone eighteen months ago. And it is fitting that I will speak about his life on this day, March 8th, the day he entered this world in 1959. Here goes.

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

These words from Clarence Budington Kelland sent goose bumps running all over me when I read them recently. I silently whispered, “That’s what my dad did.”

I didn’t really have a lot of heart to heart conversations with Dad about living life. But I really didn’t have to.

Dad taught me about life by living it.

By taking us on inexpensive, meaningful family vacations.

By showing me how to put a worm on a hook when fishing.

By helping me oil my glove, and always being my catcher.

By building our swing set and deck with his own hands (and a few helpers).

By helping us fly kites in the open field behind our house.

By showing us how to ‘box out’ at basketball practice and yelling a few intense instructions during a game.

By watching a Chiefs game with the TV announcer muted and the radio announcer blaring. (And yelling a few intense instructions during the game).

By clapping proudly after every sports game and band concert—especially after my adult dodge ball games!

By playing board games with the family and working his business skills to trade one wheat for two sheep.

By claiming every sports movie is his favorite because he loves the underdog. And watching them over and over and over and over.

By playing in the parents band, proudly banging on the drum that gave him so much joy.

By taking leadership positions even when the job is not easy and sometimes goes unnoticed.

By making the difficult call because it is the right one.

By being a man of few words, but making those few words speak thousands.

By respecting and working with people of all nations, creeds, and backgrounds.

By saying his name with confidence, followed by a strong handshake.

By lying down on the floor next to his crying daughter, reassuring her that things will get better.

By letting his daughter move into a shady apartment during college, even though he had huge reservations—and then letting her move out of the house before having a job!

By saying, “I’m proud of you buddy” after he spent a few days with his brand new grandson.

By allowing people into his cancer journey, accepting all forms of help and encouragement, and at the same time paying those gifts forward. And buying lottery tickets for the radiation nurses!

By going to confession for the first time in over 10 years, and then speaking to me about forgiveness.

By letting me teach him to pray the rosary when he couldn’t remember anymore.

By gracefully letting God take him Home.

As someone wrote in a sympathy card to our family, “He was honest, thorough, and trustworthy. There were only two types of people—those that didn’t know him or those that called him friend.”

I do not believe it was God’s will for Dad to have cancer. But God sure did use the fact he had cancer to show us more good and beauty in this world than I ever thought possible. All of our friends and family were God’s hands and feet on earth, showing His love during the most difficult time of our lives. We are now able to see how God used Dad to teach us loyalty, friendship, leadership, and LOVE.

I miss you, Dad, everyday. I’m working hard to continue the legacy you began and I hope to teach George and my future children the way you taught me. By living.

“I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” –John 10:10

If you have some memories or words of remembrance you’d like to share with my son, George, so he will know his Papa better, please send them to george.j.ashley@gmail.com. I know he, and my family, would be forever grateful for your sharing of memories!

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support with action

do things with love

Yesterday I shared a blog post discussing the phrase, “Let me know if you need anything,” as a response when we hear of someone facing a difficult challenge.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I woke up at two in the morning and wrote four pages in my journal about the topic, feeling inspired the whole time to share my thoughts on the blog. Not because I don’t say the phrase, I do.  I am becoming much more aware when I say it, and I’m working on turning my words into action. Especially since there were many times during Dad’s sickness, and mourning his death, where I have learned the importance of action to show support.

I want to share the many ways people did take those words and put them into action for me and my family. I’d also like to share how I am working on tangibly showing support to people I know facing difficult times.

So here is what I wrote early this morning. I hope you find some inspiration and feel more empowered to help those in need more tangibly, and learn that asking for/accepting help is a sign of strength which gives others an opportunity to do good.

“The post I shared on Facebook yesterday struck a chord with me because of the post’s accuracy.

While this phrase does let people know you care and want to help–

we sometimes don’t know what we need,

aren’t comfortable telling the little, and big, things we might need help with,

and will forget who offered!

And that is such a lost opportunity for both the offerer (losing a chance to do good for someone), and the one struggling (losing a chance for some much needed help.)

Some of the best things people did for me and my family while Dad was sick, and even a year later, were the things we didn’t ask for, or that we finally learned we were worthy of asking for.

  • visits from friends, family, and other random guests
  • gift cards to grocery store, local restaurants, gas stations
  • meals multiple times a week
  • cards almost daily of well wishes and sometimes silly things
  • emails/texts/phone calls asking how we were doing
  • cleaning our house, fixing things, while we were gone on vacation!
  • donating a maid service
  • putting up christmas lights/yard work

The list could continue, if I spent more time thinking.

Living 600 miles away I sometimes felt displaced from the support my family was getting, but my friends found ways to help me even from a distance. They organized so one person would write me a letter each week. Sometimes they were filled with encouraging words, other times it was a simple update on life. I loved how those letters brought a little of normal back into my life when things felt anything but. A local friend gave me a care package full of snacks, relaxing spa masks, a funny movie, a magazine, and other things that made me smile. Another friend would bring food over or come have tea and just listen to me talk about everything or nothing. Someone sent me a book of inspiring quotes. I also received cards, gift cards, and notes reminding me they were praying for me and my family.

There were times where I wondered if anyone cared. If people really did want to support me, or if they even knew how difficult life was for me.

All of these things, these actions, were big and small ways to physically show me that people cared, that they did know my life was hard at that moment, and they were walking with me.

In times when I am so lost within my struggle, it is my biggest desire to see a glimmer of hope–in a phone call, a card, a meal, in a bag of gummy bears.

That is what I really need. HOPE. Knowing I am not alone in my struggle.

Now what? How can we start being more intentional with helping those who need support?

Here is how I’ve been working to actively provide support for someone going through a difficult time. Remember, I’m not very good at this, but I’m trying.

I love numbered lists, so you’re getting one today.

1. Identify the situation and place yourself there—what would YOU need?

What would make a hospital room feel more cozy? What would bring a smile to my face if I were deeply sad? What would help me relax in the midst of caring for a sick loved one? If you know someone who has been in that situation—ask them for what helped. I have researched online ideas for care packages and gifts for people in different situations. It can be a great springboard for ideas.

2. Decide what you are best able to do.

You know your strengths, so use them in this situation! Are you able to make a meal for the family? Would sending a meal (Jack Stack!) or gift card for food better fit your comfort zone or the family’s schedule? Can you send a card periodically letting them know you’re thinking of them? Are you good at spending time with people? Can you call, visit, email once a week to check in? Can you commit to praying for them daily or offer a small sacrifice in their honor? Can you pull them out of their mess for an hour and take them shopping or to a movie? Can you drive them or a family member somewhere? Or babysit the kids for an hour? Are you good at yard work or handy around the house? Maybe you could wash their sheets and towels? If you don’t have a lot of money to send gifts, what can you do for them that doesn’t cost anything?

The options are so large once I started noticing the things my family needed that had almost nothing to do with caring for/missing Dad. It was all about helping to make life easier, no matter how small the task.

3. Communicate with the person/family what you want to do.

Sometimes a thing you want to do might be too personal or might not fit exactly what the family wants, so talking with them (or if there is a contact person organizing help) is important. We had many friends who told us what they were going to do, and it was awesome! They didn’t ask, “Do you want me to go to the grocery store for you?” they said, “I’m dropping some groceries off at your house today, what can I get you?” This was amazing because it left little room to feel guilty, or for us to say no to something we really needed. The one I loved the most was, “I’m taking you out, what day and time are you available?” How can I say no to that??

Obviously every person/family is different. But I feel even discerning the tangible ways you can support will begin to take the words of “let me know if you need anything” closer to action.

An action of love and support that will give people what they need.”

What are some other actions of support you would suggest? What helped you when you were going through a tough time? 

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relic

A small thing from last Saturday: a saint’s relic

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One thing I love about being Catholic is the communion of saints. I love having so many amazing men and women in Heaven that I can ask to pray for me and my family. It is even more comforting to know that each of those people have an amazing connection with Jesus that can only help in storming Heaven with our needs.

Saint Peregrine has been our main man during this cancer journey. He is the patron saint of cancer patients so we know he understands our need for prayers.

My aunt was fortunate enough to borrow a relic of Saint Peregrine and some oil. A relic is a piece of the body of a saint. I know, it sounds pretty gruesome, but it is pretty amazing how just having something physical from the holy person can make their spiritual presence much more tangible. 

So last Saturday we had most of my dad’s side over for dinner and games. Before we started the party we had a little prayer service where we anointed dad and grandpa with the oil and touched their heads with the relic. We asked for the intercession of Saint Peregrine for healing. 

It was a beautiful moment and full of hope. 

Since the relic has entered our home I feel a lot of things have been coming together. We’ve had an influx of visitors and professionals come to help us take care of Dad. It’s amazing. 

We’re not done fighting.

St. Peregrine, Pray for us!

Who is your ‘go to’ Saint, or who on Earth do you ask to pray for you?

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