Living Hope in Death

Every time I attend funeral services for an Old Order Mennonite family member or friend, I wish those “outside” could experience their death rituals, rich with culture, community, and faith. The horse-drawn hearse and the four-part-harmony singing make me cry every time.

This week I attended the funeral for my great Aunt Mary. Later that evening, I wrote this poem about the graveside portion of the service.

Stoic Hope

Regina Cyzick Harlow

2/27/2018

From Aunt Mary Beery’s funeral

Shovels scratch

Dirt onto the coffin

Filling the grave

Formed from dust

To dust returning

Mourners

Black hats

Black shawls

Sturdy shoes

Singing

Shoveling

Discretely wiping tears

Faint florals blend

With horses

Leather

Farm

And moth balls

Wafting on the breeze

Sunshine

Blue sky

Breathing deep

Crisp air

Inhaling the promise

Of Living Hope

For those unfamiliar with Old Order Mennonites, they are often confused with Amish because they drive horse and buggy, dress plainly, and live simple agrarian lives. My family and I were raised in the Old Order Mennonite faith, and while I had my reasons for leaving as a young adult, I hold many things and people dear from their community.

My friend, Ava, wrote an in-depth article about their death rituals here. She captures the essence of what happens at the time of death through the funeral in vivid beautiful detail.

Here is a link to a photography essay of an Old Order Mennonite Family by a friend of mine, of life-long family friends/neighbors.

When love and pain get physical 

I’ve started this post a hundred times and simply couldn’t get it out. It feels so vulnerable, but for others who need to learn these same lessons, I must share. 

My husband, our children, and my mission through the Sadie Rose Foundation are, without a doubt, the things I love most in life, secondary only to my love for God. Who knew my deep and unwavering love for them could cause physical pain?



The past few years have wreaked havoc on my health and after many tests, the underlying “diagnosis” was a real wake-up call. Nearly two years ago, I “lost” my voice and was diagnosed with a hemorrhagic nodule on my left vocal chord. I use my voice in many ways, including singing, public speaking, conducting meetings, conversation, and of course, “mommy voice,” so this was a big deal to me. 

My Ear, Nose, Throat specialist prescribed, even ordered, silence in order for the nodule to heal. With the addition of a foster placement during that time, and our family’s entire routine upended, the children needed mommy’s reassurance and stability more than ever. No talking and only whispering when words were absolutely necessary seemed an impossibility, but I took the orders very seriously. Nearly a year later my voice returned to its normal strength and range. 

That experience was my first indication that my body was trying to tell me something. 

This spring I began having pain in my left side and my right foot. After nearly two months, I went to the doctor. The nurse practitioner believed the pain to be muscular. I was also diagnosed with a common infection that cleared quickly with antibiotics, but the underlying pain persisted. 

Another visit to the doctor led them to believe I should have more tests, just to “rule out scary stuff.” In the meantime the pain became unbearable and warranted a trip to the ED. A CT scan showed a few areas of possible concern and I tested positive for strep. 

(A few weeks earlier I had a trip to the ED for a trout bone that had lodged in my throat.) 

In the meantime, I did all I could to keep up with my family, our non-profit, my church responsibilities, and helping care for a beloved family member.   

At some point I realized I had nothing left to give. I drove into the church parking lot for a meeting and the gas light in my vehicle came on. I realized at that moment that the gas light in my life was glaring at me. I was “on empty,” and without refueling, I could not continue. 

Tests were coming back normal and negative, which was great except that I needed answers. I set up a counseling appointment (my first ever) and began seeing a chiropractor. I started noticing improvement with my first visits to both. I have known for a long time that I needed to find a way to release the pain, grief, and concern I carry for others, but I didn’t realize that not doing so could ruin me. 

Where there is love, there is vulnerability to pain. Laura Ramirez

I had dubbed myself “a sacred painholder” somewhere in my journey of walking with those grieving the death of a child, but I needed to learn how to be a “pain-releaser.” Connecting with new families for me always means that their miracle never came, there was no happy ending, it means that a child has died

This is heavy stuff. I held their pain so closely, it became my own. I was imposing my anxieties on my family, frightened with every small pain or problem that they were going to die too, because “I knew someone who…” Besides the weight of grief growing ever-heavier, my daily life became ever-busier. I had over-extended every area of my life, and my body started paying the price. 

My Psoas muscle (termed by some as the “muscle of your soul,”) was the cause of the pain in my side and my other complications seemed to stem from that. Some would say the Psoas muscle is where we hold stress, tension, and anxiety, and I was holding plenty of all three. 

As of several weeks ago, the last remaining tests came back clear, I’m seeing significant improvement from counseling and chiropractic care, I’m deliberately saying “no” to many good opportunities so I can savor the most precious ones more fully, and I am returning to hobbies I have loved in the past and trying something totally new. 

Ballistics and Ballet

One of my favorite hobbies and stress relievers years ago was target and skeet shooting. My husband and I have bonded more in returning to that hobby then I could have dreamed. I also signed up for an adult ballet class! That stretches me (literally and figuratively) far out of my comfort zone, but it is helping me rebuild my core strength and is forcing me to confront a myriad of insecurities. 


I’m taking time out and time off from many “extracurricular things” to return to the those that refuel me. I am purposefully praying for myself, something I do well for others but have neglected on my own behalf. I am finding refuge and peace in the constant relentless love of God and in these words from His Word.  

Psalm 139:7-10 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.

Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

Doughnuts, Dwarfism, Adoption, Celebration, Memorium

Ten years. That’s how long it has been since we’ve held and kissed our sweet Sadie Rose hello and good-bye. In memory of her 10th birthday, we are inviting all who wish, to celebrate with us in a unique way. Most who know us know our passion for our work through the Sadie Rose Foundation. Most know us know our passion for adoption. In memory of our sweet Sadie Rose and honor of our heart for adoption, read on to see how we invite you to celebrate her life with us.

While I talk and write about her often, few people remember or associate her as a Little Person (someone with dwarfism) and think of her more simply as a baby gone too soon. In the grand scheme of things, that is perfectly fine, but with her diagnosis of hypochondrogenesis, a rare form of skeletal dysplasia including dwarfism, she has always connected us to the Little People community.

Little People of America, is a non-profit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families. Their mission statement is: “LPA is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dwarfism throughout their lives while celebrating with great pride Little People’s contribution to social diversity.  LPA strives to bring solutions and global awareness to the prominent issues affecting individuals of short stature and their families.”

One of the ways they support the Little People community is helping children of short stature find forever families through their adoption advocacy and grants. Here’s a link that explains specifically how they work to fulfill this mission. 

Here’s a link to view children of short stature waiting to find their forever families. I dare you to let it break your heart. It crushed mine.

Here’s a link from a familiy’s first-person experience with adopting children with dwarfism. 

Finally, here is a link to our ambitious goal of raising $1000 in Sadie’s memory to cover an adoption grant for one of these waiting children and their forever families. 

We are also taking orders locally for mom’s famous homemade doughnuts made fresh and ready for pick-up Friday, June 16, 8 am, at the Sadie Rose House, 195 Main Street Dayton. One hundred percent of money raised will go toward this adoption grant. In an effort to keep track of orders, please ONLY order through our Facebook event page, Celebrating Sadie’s 10th Heavenly Birthday. If you do not have Facebook, you can call or text your orders to Regina at 540-421-6458.


Whether or not you can make a financial contribution to this cause, we would love for you to consider a random act of kindness in memory of Sadie on June 20.

Your friendship, your love, your support has meant the world to us these past ten years. We will miss Sadie until the day we hold her again on the other side of eternity, and in the interim we will do everything we can to reduce the pain of others along the way. Thank you in advance for helping us accomplish this goal!

Our eyes are on heaven, our hands stretched toward humanity.


 

Grieving and healing together, as individuals

Often there are people around us who are also impacted by the source of our grief. Certainly our family and friends grieved in their own way for the death of our daughter. Looking back, I can see more clearly how each of them expressed their grief and love in their unique ways. I am so grateful for everyone who has walked this road with us.

I flung myself to the floor, weeping, alone for the first time since Sadie died

The doorbell rang, our neighbor an awkward witness to my uninhibited grief

She brought a beautiful hanging basket and said, “I’m so sorry”

Family cleaned, weeded flower beds, and snapped buckets of green beans and shucked copious amounts of corn on the cob to feed those gathered

Their presence comforted me

Daddy went grocery shopping

I still have the green bottle of Gain laundry detergent, empty now, but a reminder of their coming together and of my sweet Sadie Rose

Not all of them came together for the happiest day of my life, but they did for the saddest

That laundry detergent bottle reminds me so

Two sisters with small infants shied away at first, but upon my request brought their babies for me to hold

They cried survivor’s guilt tears as I held their little ones and wept for my Sadie

They didn’t want to know the pain of empty arms, but they also didn’t understand why they were so blessed

I marveled at the perfection of their tiny infants and knew Sadie was perfect in her own little way

My niece, then 12 years old, brought a red balloon and asked us to write notes to Sadie

We released it in our backyard, our younger nieces and nephews intrigued by the tears but delighted by the floating red heart carried away into the sunset

We sat around her grave on a beautiful Saturday afternoon

Nieces and nephews laid stuffed toys on her tiny white casket

We sang Jesus loves me

My father-in-law coughed and rubbed his eyes, grief had snuck up on his stoic composed form

My husband looked off into the distance, always far away, I wondered if he would ever come back

But he did, he would come back for a while to find me

Crumpled in a heap on the shower floor or staring out the window into the night

We fluctuated back and forth, being strong while the other was weak and vice versa

Another sister came after her farm chores

We dunked chocolate-dipped biscotti into our coffee until our stomachs hurt, mostly silent, with occasional bursts of detail accompanied by grunts and nods

Together we grieved, as individuals

Together we remember and heal

The tension of grief and joy

“Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
I have found this quote from Elizabeth Stone to be true wherever your child might be walking. 


On golden streets…


Or grassy yard..

Yesterday our first born would have been 9 years old. Instead of an elaborate birthday party, we went to her now moss-covered grave and read a story about the Invisible String (by Patrice Karst) that keeps us connected no matter where we are. 

There were tears. There was laughter. There was a particular gift in sharing the day with a young child living their own grief. Sometimes spoken, sometimes without a word, we danced the sacred rhythm of grief and joy and were reminded that the depth of our grief is a testament to the depth of our love. 

Together we found there was much to celebrate about the ones we were missing. And we gave thanks for the invisible string of love that connects us all. 

“Mothering is to teach the art of living to children.” — Elaine Heffner

It is this mother’s joy and challenge to teach the art of living in the tension of present and hereafter, to live with purpose, intention, and to instill eternal values. To model (so clumsily most of the time) the calisthenics of a full life balancing sorrow and hope, grief and joy. 

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” –Anne Lamott

Waiting

Waiting. I am currently waiting for a haircut appointment. I have someone else waiting on me for an appointment. But sometimes the waiting is more difficult. Sometimes waiting requires being present. Being present requires being still, reflective, looking deep within and acknowledging all that we are and then addressing that which is revealed.

Yesterday I waited for my grief to diminish. Grief that caught me off-guard as I anticipate the 6-year anniversary of our daughter’s birth and death this week. Six years. Haven’t I waited long enough?

I wait in anticipation of my upcoming licensing service this Sunday.

I can fill my waiting time with meaningless clutter or I can sit, be present, feel and acknowledge whatever emotions I am experiencing at that moment and pray that in the waiting I am learning and growing, emptying and filling.

And sometimes, waiting is done best by playing…

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