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Grief, Revealed

Saturday, October 8, 2005 12:01 AM CDT

Whew! Well that little entry created quite a flurry, didn't it? LOL. Well, I guess most of you don't know how much of a flurry, because you don't get the private e-mails. Side would be good for those e-mails to go public. Grief, this journey through an alien, barren landscape, is universal. Most have walked a similar path. Each path is different, but there are commonalities in our experiences, threads as Jeffrey calls them, feelings, my thoughts echoed in someone else's story. Some choose not to share or to share with a select few. Their right, their call, their decision. But I do know that the sharing of these stories brings understanding, brings connection to others, and opens the way for God to be present. "Whenever two or more are gathered"....we cannot do this alone.

So that is a part of the reason that I share, that connection, touching that universal archetype within us all. It's not the most important reason. This journal, which began as a way to convey information, grew into the story of an incredibly loving and courageous man and how powerfully he touched the people around him. It has changed again, into the story of my heart. It is a way for me to preserve these days, these feelings, these stories for my children. As they grow, they will want to remember. This is a way for them to know what happened, a way for them to recall what it was like.

Every day, I consider taking it off the web, making it something private, for my children. So far, I haven’t felt the need to do that. The responses I receive indicate that this journal touches a nerve for many, that it gives people a way to not only offer caring to us, but to further examine some of these issues in their own lives, their own relationships, to stop and remember what is of real value. It’s a small echo of Dave. Every day he shared himself with his students, his friends, his family. He was real with what was happening, the good and the bad. He always found a way to direct our eyes and our hearts toward God. God is the river, Dave is the rock, this journal is the ripples across the surface of the water.

In this effort, I strive for honesty above all else. It is tempting to "pretty up" the pictures, to gloss over the hard parts, to focus on the beauty. Our culture expects that. In some ways, we expect ourselves to be less than human. There cannot be full love without the risk of searing pain. A person like Dave, in life, gave so very much. It makes sense that there is a huge wound now that he's gone.

As a therapist and psychologist, I find people’s responses to that pain interesting, fascinating. As a person, I find some responses comforting and some less so. But all are made in love, and I feel that. Some are quick to assure me that what I feel is normal. Some resonate with what I’m feeling. Some are made anxious by it. Some draw parallels to their own experiences. Some pray for me. Some make assumptions. Some are frightened for me. Some are probably frightened BY me, although no-one's said that yet! Some offer advice or books. Some search for meaning. Some have encouraged me to not apologize for my anger. I don’t feel apologetic for feeling. Emotions are what make us human, all emotions. Some want to take away my pain or ease my burden, and realize that they can’t; that in most respects, the work of this journey is left for me to do. I can reach out for support and help, and I do. I’m not laboring under the delusion that I have to do this alone. I can’t. The work is mine, only I can do it, but I have support in doing that work. Some clearly think that I have lost my mind, and are worried about me. I’m okay, really. Really. I’m okay, in the way a woman in labor is okay.

When a woman gives birth, it hurts. It’s painful. It’s scary, especially if it’s the first time. She can get help and support and comfort from those around her, but the real work only she can accomplish. It’s exhausting and all-consuming. There are times when she feels like she simply can’t do this another minute. Sometimes she screams or cries or gets a wild look in her eye. Sometimes she says, “Just make it stop. I can’t do this anymore.” Those around her feel helpless and frantic. Then she reaches deep within herself, finds that reserve, holds her husband’s hand and musters the energy to move things one step further. This cycle can happen over and over again. And in the end, she’s got a gift beyond all measure, a sense of relief, and immense pride in herself.

The analogy is imperfect, as all analogies are. For one, there is no epidural for loss! The tunnel of grief is longer and more convoluted. Knowing when you’ve reached the “end” is impossible. The rewards are less tangible. The reasons less clear. But all-in-all, the gist holds. It’s a labor of love. And it’s perfectly natural and perfectly ordinary, and astoundingly miraculous and extraordinary all in one.

We tend, as a culture, to shy away from the hard parts, the ugly parts, the less than perfect moments. In movies, the laboring mom, with perfect make-up, hollers a little, her husband wipes her brow, and “Oh, it’s a boy!” and there are beautiful smiles. Most moms kind of roll their eyes, knowing what the reality for most is truly like.

Our culture glosses over reality. We are uncomfortable with pain. We teach it early. We pick up babies who fall and say, “There, there, it’s okay.” Nope. It’s not okay. They hurt. How much more real, more validating would it be if we could say, “Oh, that hurt. I’m right here.” We want to stop two year olds from feeling angry. How much better if we can acknowledge their anger, their burgeoning sense of self, and help them learn to use the power in their feelings positively instead of telling them not to feel it. We have trouble when our children feel sad. We numb them with tv. We fix them with cookies. We tell our teenagers they are over-reacting when they pout or seethe or express angst over their friendships and the state of the world. We laugh at their “drama” and call them moody. As a people, we generally do a lousy job of being able to tolerate hurt and anger and pain and grief….the whole “negative” spectrum of human emotion. We want to fix it immediately, and make it all better. And while it’s important that we are making progress, that we aren’t stuck, it’s just as essential not to skip over the steps…the denial, the bargaining, the anger, the sadness….these are essential before the acceptance. These are cyclical; they return in a spiral, we revisit old stages at new levels over time.

My hope is to teach my children about this spiral. To allow them their feelings, all of them. To let them know that joy and pain are simply two sides of the same coin. That in truly experiencing the joy of life, they will be open to the hurt. They will have to risk in order to fully love. And to learn that the risk is worth it. And to learn that the biggest gift we can give to someone who hurts is to walk with them, to allow them to feel, allow them to express. And to do the same in times of joy and celebration. And to allow others to do this for you. This is friendship. This is love. This is a gift from their father, who loved without any reservation about the risk. Every time. A man who was unafraid to love. A man who was unafraid to cry. A man who was unafraid to stand up for the ideas and people and the God he believed in.

Missy said something very profound at the game yesterday. She shared about a man who said that time doesn't really change anything, or heal anything, we just learn to carry the burden differently. That resonated with me. After almost 17 years, Kyle's death is still there, the hole still the same, the hurt as deep and as piercing as it was that first day, but I have learned to live with it, around it, through it. I carry it differently than I did.

Now there is new learning to do. Thank you all, for listening, for caring, and for walking with me as I learn a new thing...or maybe it's an old thing in a new way...again.

Love, Shelley


  1. "Ripples across the surface of the water." What a beautiful analogy you describe in your journal entry today. Your honesty, openness and eloquence give us all a chance to catch glimpses of these ripples... to watch and feel and ponder our own thoughts as they pass by. Sometimes lovely. Sometimes unsettling. Sometimes funny. Sometimes sad. Sometimes light. Sometimes dark. Ripples of thought, of love, of emotion that are always honest, pure, true...

    "God is the river, Dave is the rock, this journal is the ripples across the surface of the water."

    Thank you for sharing your ripples with us, Michelle!


    Jim Wilson
    Woodinville, WA - Sunday, October 9, 2005 2:09 AM CDT
    To a woman of profound words...from a woman of few words (me!....although my family may disagree!) the only word I can think of right now is...BEAUTIFUL! I thank God for the gift of you!
    Walla Walla , WA - Saturday, October 8, 2005 5:37 PM CDT

  2. It is so hard to imagine that Rob has been gone for more than 2 weeks, when it feels like we were in the Emergency Room just yesterday. The weekend of Rob’s memorial service, King said that the hard part had finally ended for his dad, but was just beginning for us…how true that is.

    People who came to be with us have all gone home, our families and friends have returned to their jobs and Rachel has started kindergarten. The world is still turning on its axis, but all the planets seem misaligned here in my life. My heart is so full of joy at remembering him and sorrow that there will be no new memories.

    I want him back with me every hour of every day, but not weakened and frail like he had become. I miss his dear eyes and clear vision when he looked at the world. I miss his judgment and opinions about things—OK, about everything—he always did have an opinion!!

    Everything we will ever share has already happened. It feels really bleak right now to imagine that WE will never see King play guitar again, meet Emma’s new baby, watch Rachel and Holly grow up, play Pictionary with Kim and J.D. and our neighbors here in Georgetown. We won’t vote in the next election. We used to cancel each other’s votes in the past, but that happened less often as politics moved so far to the right that even Rob could not go there any more!

    The entity that was Rob&Claudia has suddenly ceased to exist. We were a team for 39 years, and for the last year we were united in fighting for Rob’s life. He would not see his doctors unless I could be there, because he knew I would always be on guard for him. He said I was the wind beneath his wings and I wanted to keep him aloft forever.

    I feel his presence with me sometimes, when I am really quiet or really tired. I want to learn to take comfort from his spirit, instead of wanting his arms and his smiles and his grins. The last conscious act he made was to wink at me in the ER. I know he wanted me to know he was all right. And I know in my heart and my soul that he is all right now.

    I am waiting for him in my dreams. How lucky for Sleeping Beauty that she got to wait so comfortably for her true love, while I miss mine so sorely.

    I know that each one of us is different, and that loss such as this is too unique and too personal to ever really be shared, but my heart is with you as you learn to mourn [a lesson this deep must be learned, I think. It does not come naturally...] and as you learn to live in a world that may someday again be beautiful, but never in the same way as it was before.

    Keep writing. It helps to put on paper what you think and feel. Writing will allow you to watch your feelings shift and change, morphing into something new and hopefully, something more manageable and less physically painful, but NEVER any less a loss.


    Claudia Williams
    Georgetown, TX - Sunday, October 9, 2005 10:28 AM CDT

  3. What a handsome picture of Kenny and Kendra. Can it really be that many years already have passed since Kenny was running around the tables at Tot Spot with sidekick little Zac in the midst of all the other zany activity!? Thanks for sharing, Michelle.
    - Sunday, October 9, 2005 11:29 AM CDT
    Dear Shelley:

    I have arrived at your website through a very convoluted path: from my great-niece Tori’s site by way of Hadley Fox’s to Dave’s. My husband was also a brain tumor patient, like Dave, but he died of leukemia, the ultimate effect of the high-dose chemo he was given in 1997 to prevent the return of his brain tumor. Rob's brain tumor was diagnosed in November, 1996, and he died August 7, 2005. Our stories are so similar that it is eerie that we do not somehow already know one another.

    I have read your journal entries and decided to post some of my thoughts here in your guestbook. Like you, I feel they should be made public, for all to read, in the hope that they will be of help to someone else, or simply affirm what we already know: that this is just so hard to live with and through. I, too, have a website on CaringBridge that I began to keep people in touch with Rob’s treatments, and now keep as a place to mourn him that is not as lonely as my home, my bedroom, and my heart. That link is

    My husband and I were married almost 40 years. We have two sons: King, who is a musician and audio engineer working in Nashville, and J.D., a network systems integration engineer who is married to Kimberly and father of Rachel, 5, and Holly, 18 months.

    On August 23rd, the day your Dave died, I wrote:

  4. Michele, please do not quit journaling. This is the way we can check in with you and understand a little of what you are feeling and going though. We care about you and your family and do pray. Kenny looks great in his prom outfit. Ben asked if he went to the prom, he did not see him. He asks often how you and your family doing. Please just hang in there.
    Sherri Huwe
    College Place, wa 99324 - Monday, October 10, 2005 6:49 PM CDT
    There is not a day that goes by that I don't stop to pray for you and your family. I know that God is holding onto all of you with his tightest grip, and he is even carrying you through those times when the next step seems unbearable. Tears that are streaming down all of faces are tears of love for a very very special man and friend to so many. My love to you for your inspiration to share with so many. Dave was a very blessed man to have met such a beautiful woman.
    Love you, Val
    Val Cole
    Walla Walla, Wa USA - Monday, October 10, 2005 1:19 AM CDT
    Hi Dave, we miss you. Michelle and family, keep strong and take care.
    God Bless.
    Los Angeles, CA United States - Sunday, October 9, 2005 8:20 PM CDT
    Thank you, for articulating so well your feelings and struggles with them and "life as we know it". As you eluded to, most of us have had these feelings in some form due to significant loss in our lives. Thank you for continuing to share with us. We love you, Kriss and Robin
    Kriss & Robin Peterson
    Walla Walla, WA - Sunday, October 9, 2005 8:05 PM CDT
    i hope everything is alright. i am praying for you.
    cochran, wa walla walla - Sunday, October 9, 2005 7:01 PM CDT
    I have always believed the wounds don't really heal, sometimes I think that's a myth perpetuated by those surrounding the wounded person so thathey feel better about not being able to fix the pain.

    What you said is true, we learn to carry the burden differently. And the shock and numbness part wear off eventually.

    God bless you and your dear family.

    Kathleen, mom to Steven and aunt to angel Kyra
    San Diego, CA USA - Sunday, October 9, 2005 4:23 PM CDT
    As you say, there is new learning to do, learning how to live with the gaping hole Dave left. With your permission, we will learn with you, look to you for guidance, offer a shoulder, and honor Dave's memory. With love, --Deb
    Debra Wright
    Walla Walla, WA - Sunday, October 9, 2005 1:56 PM CDT


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