Category Archives: Grief

From the Other Side of the World

0956603-R3-E037 The last several weeks have been a blur—traveling to incredible new places all over Australia while silently wishing I could be on the other side of the world attending my Grandpa Pontier’s funeral. And yet, I’ve felt so wonderfully full making new memories and meeting new friends that it’s hard to even process everything. My childhood dream of seeing a koala came true, and as I stood gazing up at the furry gray ball sleeping away in a gum tree I couldn’t help but smile at the richness of it all. Life- it’s but a moment. I tried several times to blog about my grandpa after hearing that Alzheimer’s had taken its toll on his life, but words eluded me. It didn’t quite seem real until I saw the pictures posted of my mom receiving the flag that had draped his coffin. When I saw my Grandpa last he seemed frustrated. Ready to go home as he put it. Lonely for his wife, whom he had loved so faithfully, and ready to meet his Savior. He’s home now. Knowing how much he longed for that I’ve found it hard to be sad. He was a strong man, principled and very much in love with his birthplace, Congo. Even when Alzheimer’s set in and he would tell the same stories over and over, I still loved to hear his stories. There was the story about when he shot an elephant with a single shot, stories of frog hunting with his best friend, stories about his time in the US army, and stories of how a tall Texas gal had captured his heart. During my time in Kenya I saw a classroom building and house that he had built years before I was born. I smiled when I saw his work knowing that his labor as an engineer and builder was still being enjoyed not just in Kenya but in other parts of the world as well. I’m thankful for his legacy and thankful that I inherited his red hair as well as his love for Africa. I’m grateful to call such an amazing man my grandpa with all of his accomplishments and even with his flaws I loved him dearly. He taught me about faithfulness, and about the beauty of holding your partner’s hand no matter how old you grow. He taught me about the art of telling a good story, and he taught me to appreciating a country that is different from the one your passport reflects. I’m thankful for the life that he lived and even from thousands of miles away I was there in my thoughts as he was laid to rest—happy and finally home. IMG_5677

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It Hurts to Love this Deeply

I woke up the next morning with a throbbing toe. That’s when I realized that I had kicked some of the loose rocks in the driveway a lot harder than I thought I had. I was heading to town when he called. “You have to let them go,” he told me.

Let them go! How do you “let go” of two of your kids? How do you go from kissing them goodnight, braiding their hair, and helping them with their homework to possibly never seeing them again? God, I’m just not strong enough for this.

We’d made an exception when a mother with a paralyzed husband begged us to take her youngest daughter along with her granddaughter who was being raised by a single mother with epilepsy. We don’t normally take children with parents at the children’s home where I work, but in this case Pastor Simon had made an exception. An exception that was now causing all of us a lot of pain.

A year later the mother changed her mind. She wanted the two girls back. She didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t come and take the girls whenever she wanted to. She was threatening to cause trouble if we didn’t return them that week so that they could start school where she lived. That’s when I realized that it’s possible to love someone so much that it hurts.

I wanted to fight. Take it to the courts. Legally the children were under our guardianship, and I didn’t want them to go back to a home where they wouldn’t be taken care of like they had been over the last year. But, the decision was not mine and while everything in me wanted to fight it deep in my heart I knew that a judge would end up rewarding the children back to their biological relatives, so was it best to go down that road?

I felt like a robot packing a backpack for Esther while Richelle packed one for Michelle. Their toothbrushes, dolls, jump rope, shoes, and clothes. This was it. Our family was being split apart. I tried to hold it together for the other kids , but I wasn’t doing a very good job. I love my girls. Sometimes when I would be cooking breakfast on a Saturday morning Michelle (who is usually very independent) would come up to me, jump into my arms and hold on to me like her life depended on it. Esther is not much of a cuddler, but when we walked down the road she loved to hold my hand and when I’d tell her that I loved her she would always flash me one of her beautiful, bright smiles. I loved her giggly laugh, her cute cubby checks, and her sweet personality. When I told her that her mom wanted her to come and live with her again her eyes immediately filled with tears, and then she got very quiet. The brightness in her eyes disappeared and was replaced with a vacant stare. How do you explain to a child that you have no control in some situations? How do you say goodbye to one of your children knowing that if you do ever see them again everything will be different. They belong to someone else now. My mind still can’t fathom that.

I cried a lot—confused, desperate, angry tears. I felt numb, powerless, and broken as I watched the car drive away. “I’ll come back when it’s over,” Michelle had said quoting a line from “The Call” one of her favorite songs.

“I hope so,” Richelle had told her.

“What is hope,” she asked.

“I want you to,” Richelle said.

Ruthann had the hard job of riding with the girls and Pastor Simon to give them back to their relatives, and then it was over. At least as over as something like that can be.

I sat with little Kevin and held him as he cried over the loss of his sisters. Later, I sat with my arm around Niko when I found him sitting on the edge of the driveway in tears. I had no words, no answers, nothing to give but my presence and at that moment it didn’t feel like enough. The rest of the day is a blur.

One of our older boys gave me a pep talk about how God sees everything and knows everything. “I know,” I told him, “But, I’ll never see them I again.”

“Two mountains never meet,” he replied, “but people, people will meet again.”

Maybe we will meet again. I have no guarantee but maybe. In the meantime we are all still praying for God to get us through this, to hold us, to bring some good from this heartache. He sees. He knows even when we don’t. That doesn’t lessen the pain, but as least it is a whisper of hope. Right now, by God’s grace, we’re surviving one day at a time. Sometimes people think that working in a children’s home in Africa is some kind of romantic adventure full of wet kisses and fun little adventures. Some days that is true, but other days it just plain hurts. It hurts to love this deeply.

My beautiful Esther

My beautiful Esther

My precious baby girl Michelle

My precious baby girl Michelle

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Some Days it Just Hurts

Nothing is normal about our family of seventeen kids, three “aunties”, one “uncle”, a cat, two Germany Shepard’s and puppies on the way. We had to say goodbye to our uncle this week as Jeremy returned to the US. Goodbyes are never easy, but they are even harder for a child who has seen too many people in their life come and go. But God calls different people to come for different amounts of time. As hard as it is for the kids to say goodbye, it is beautiful to see that even though goodbyes get messy (literally) with tears, wailing, and snotty noses. It means that the kids have opened up their hearts and let in love—a risky thing to do when you’ve been abandoned, abused, and neglected.

I start to feel physically sick when I think about having to say goodbye to these kids in May even though I’ll only be gone for a short time. They have wrapped their fingers so tightly around my heart that it hurts to think about being separated from them even if it is only for a couple of months. But, I miss my family too. I can’t wait to go home for a visit to catch up with friends and  to spend time with the people I love in the US. I just wish there was a way to be in both places at once. When I booked a plane ticket back to the US, I didn’t realize at the time that I would be leaving on Charity’s birthday. Charity, the one who sobbed when I took a weekend trip to Uganda and begged me not to go. The one whose eyes teared up yesterday when Richelle asked me what time I was leaving in the morning (she was asking about my trip into town to buy school shoes for the boys). Charity panicked for a second thinking I was leaving, leaving.

God help me. As much as I love my family and can’t wait to see them, I don’t know how I’m going to have the emotional strength to do this. I love these kids even with their off key singing, mood swings, and muddy shoes. We’re a family. An odd family, but a family still and every day I thank God that He has allowed me to be apart of helping raise these kids. Some day in heaven there will be no more heart wrenching goodbyes. God will wipe our tears and our snotty noses and all the pain will dissolve into joy. That will be a beautiful day. Until then, we have to survive this emotional rollercoaster of life; and get used to the fact that our hearts will often be left in multiple places. But, as hard as goodbyes are they show that love exists. If you never had to say goodbye it would mean that you never met anyone new or that you never traveled outside of your own small world. Yes, goodbyes hurt; but I’ll take the heartaches along with the adventure.

I don’t want to stay so safe and protected that I become stagnant. I want our kids to know that God brings you through the hurt of goodbye and adds new people and experiences to every day He gives you. It hurts, but it heals, and until we reach our final home in heaven goodbyes are going to have to be apart of this process we call life.

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It Could Have Been Me

I wasn’t in Westgate Mall when terrorists took over the building, but I could have been. It’s my favorite mall. The one I usually go to whenever I am in Nairobi. I love its global feel. I love the free wifi at Arts Café (my happy place). I love the posh atmosphere. After spending time in Kenya’s more rural mountains, Westgate is always a little piece of paradise.

The last time I was there I ate spinach ricotta lasagna. It was heavenly, the first real cheese I’d eaten in three months. I caught up on emails, watched the adorable little Indian girls sitting at the table next to mine, and soaked in the buzz of life happening around me. I went to Nakumat and bought chocolate bars for my co-worker, Alyssa, as a peace offering for leaving her to take care of the kids while Ruthann and I went into the capital to take care of visa issues. I bought cute little toothbrush holders for the kids and wandered the supermarket aisles feeling like I was back in the US wandering the aisles of Target.

When I think of Westgate I think of culture, beauty, mango smoothies, family outings, and movie theaters. Now I’ll always think of grenades, gunshots, children screaming, and people jumping from the upper floors in order to get away from the terror.

I can’t wrap my mind around the thought of all those families trapped in the mall—a simple family outing turned into a tragic nightmare. What is the point of attacking a mall, killing children, and destroying a place a peace? It’s been four days now. We are still waiting to hear how it is all going to end. Every time I read an article about what is going on at Westgate the death count is higher.

What if it had been me sitting there enjoying my spinach ricotta lasagna when the gunshots started? What if it had been me when they asked the hostages to recite an Islamic prayer or be shot? What if it had been me taking one of the kids from the children’s home where I work on a special treat into town? I can’t imagine being unable to protect my child from terrorists with grenades and guns. I can’t imagine how those mother’s felt last Saturday when they had to live through hell.

What kind of person targets a mall? What kind of person attacks children simply going about their day? It’s heartbreaking. Yes, they created terror but for what? It’s sickening just to think about it.

If it had been me, I pray I would have been strong—strong enough to forgive such evil, strong enough to help those weaker than myself. But, it wasn’t me. I’m here safe in my rural mountain home away from the chaos, away from the pain of hundreds of families aching for their loved ones. But, I am not untouched even here far away from it all. My heart hurts for Kenya, for the injured, for those planning funerals, for those whose memories are forever scarred by choosing the wrong day to go to the mall.

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Fragile

I wasn’t able to go to the funeral. I’ll be in Kijabe soon but not soon enough. I thought about not going to work after finding out that my aunt had passed away, but one of the best things about working as a nanny is that holding babies can be therapeutic.

I’m tired of writing about grief. It hurts. I’m tired of stressing about what’s going to happen next. My dad left me a voice message last week telling me to call home and my first thought was, “great what happened now?”

Life is fragile so very, very fragile.

My first clear memory of Aunt Martha was after my twin sister died suddenly. She sent my cousin and me American Girl paper dolls and cookbooks. Mine was Molly and Amanda got Kirsten. For an eight year old, it was such an appropriate gift. A thoughtful way of saying, “I know things are tough for you right now, but I care.” That’s the kind of person Aunt Martha was.

She ran a guest house on the coast of Mombassa. My friend and I had planned to spend a long weekend at her house in June. We’d been messaging back and forth confirming dates and talking through travel options.

It still hasn’t completely hit me that Aunt Martha won’t been there when I get to Kenya next month. I know she is in a better place, but selfishly I still want her here. She touched so many live, brought so much joy, and was an inspiration to me and to so many other people.

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Lasting Memories

Love birds

Love birds

 

Last Thursday I headed to Florida, but it wasn’t a happy spring break trip to Florida it was for my grandma’s funeral. I was put in charge of collecting pictures for the photo board display at the service and also creating a background slide show to run during the visitation.

Grandma and her camera

Grandma and her camera

I love pictures especially old black and whites and also those adorable cute kid pictures, so I spent several hours pouring over my grandma’s photo collection. I know I inherited some of my love for pictures from my Grandma Pontier. She had books and books of neatly organized and labeled albums lined up on shelves in her bedroom. Every grandchild has a book stuffed with baby pictures and almost every out of state trip earned a book as well. My pictures are nowhere near as organized as Grandma’s, but I’ve massed quite a collection myself.

Due to a limited amount of time before the funeral, I didn’t finished the slideshow to my satisfaction, so on the 13 hour car ride home I decided to finish it. When I think of my grandma, her love for pictures is one thing that I am very thankful for. The memories she captured on film I’m sure will continue to touch generations for years to come.

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The Absence of your Presence

A tree planted in Kenya in memory of Alice Mbugua

A tree planted in Kenya in memory of Alice Mbugua

Today marked a year. A year without someone I truly cared about, a year wishing she was still here while knowing that it is impossible to go back. I remember last year right before Valentine’s Day. I was driving down the road and started thinking about the single women I knew whose lives I admired. Alice’s name was the first name to pop into my head. She always seemed willing to try new things. She brought a sense of joy and an honest love for humanity with her where ever she went. I don’t ever remember hearing her complain about life. She just experiencing life adding a special charm and polish where ever she went. As I was driving that week of Valentine’s day, I remember thinking that I should email Alice just to let her know how much I appreciated her and how she lived each day. I never sent that email. The following Sunday a sudden cerebral hemorrhage took her life.

Today I did my best to cook Kenyan food something we used to enjoy doing together. But, as I attempted sukuma wikie and chapattis, I was reminded just how much I still don’t know. I used to help cut up the ingredients, roll out dough, and just help where needed. Alice was the mastermind who made it all come together. This time it was just me.

Food has a way of being a comfortable familiar even when it doesn’t come out exactly like you hoped it would. But, at the end of the day my attempt was more about honoring a memory then it was about the actual food, and in that sense the endeavor was successful. Alice, I still miss you. Even though you are in a place of perfect happiness the world still feels the absence of your beautiful presence.

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