How The Soul Grows Through Loss

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The Virginia Creeper Trail
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It is always “pure pleasure” visiting these friends in VA!
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Easter Brunch at Heartwood, Abingdon, VA.

I have heard it said that life is a series of snapshots, moments in time. Some of these we remember forever, while others fall by the wayside as soon as they pass. This past weekend, we had the chance to visit our lifelong friends, The Reads, in their quaint hometown of Abingdon, Virginia.

It is how we respond to loss that matters. That response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives.” Gerald L. Sitser, Preface of A Grace Disguised 

We made great memories as we walked the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, biked the Virginia Creeper Trail, and with much laughter, shared meals with Paul’s brother, Jim and his wife, Cliffreda .

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Donny and Paul goof off while making green egg pizzas.
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“The Girls” after Sunday Brunch.
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Kelly and Donny ride together on the scenic Virginia Creeper Trail.

Jerry Sitser’s “A Grace Disguised” is the title of my favorite book on grief. I have mentioned it here on my Pages before.  I first learned about this helpful book when my friend, Jil died at age 40 in 2005.

Trust life, and it will teach you in JOY and in SORROW all you need to know.” James Baldwin 

This past year, my soul has grown as I have shared with our dear friends the loss of their son, Taylor, on March 7, 2015. I have had the chance to see many lessons from this book lived out in the lives of Kelly and Paul in the past year.

The Read’s home is in Plum Alley, in the backyard of a well-known, historical theatre. Barter Theatre began in 1933 with one man’s idea to have patrons pay with produce and has grown today into a year-round theatre with more than 160,000 visitors each year.

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An ivy-covered tree stump in The Read’s neighbor’s yard.

A couple of doors down from their home, I discovered a tree stump in their neighbor’s yard. This huge stump got me thinking about “A Grace Disguised”,

and the following quote from this book:

” The sorrow I feel has not disappeared, but it has been integrated into my life as a painful part of a healthy whole. Initially, my loss was so overwhelming to me that it was the dominant emotion—sometimes the only emotion I had. I felt like I was staring at the stump of a huge tree that had just been cut down in my backyard. That stump, which sat all alone, kept reminding me of the beloved tree that I had lost. I could think of nothing but that tree. Every time I looked out the window, all I could see was that stump. Eventually, however, I decided to do something about it. I landscaped my backyard, reclaiming it once again as my own. I decide to keep the stump there, since it was both too big and too precious to remove. Instead of getting rid of it, I worked around it. I planted shrubs, trees, flowers, and grass. I laid out a brick pathway and built two benches. Then I watched everything grow. Now, years later, the stump remains, still reminding me of the beloved tree I lost. But the stump is surrounded by a beautiful garden of blooming flowers and growing trees and lush grass. Likewise, the sorrow I feel remains, but I have tried to create a landscape around the loss so that what was once ugly is now an integral part of a larger, lovely whole.” 

Gerald L. Sitser, A Grace Disguised, page 42-43

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A gift in memory of Taylor here in a small part of The Read’s colorful garden.

A few lessons from this book that I have also witnessed in our friends this past year include:

(1) Busyness and exhaustion can sabotage healing. Kelly and Paul have made it a priority to “walk through the grief”, to carve out time to work in their garden, bike or walk the Creeper Trail, and take time out for themselves as they continue to heal. They also added a Golden Retriever mix, with “bling” on his left paw, to their family and he keeps them active, for sure!

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“Player” showed up “mysteriously” on friend, Lisa’s porch when she returned from the shelter dedication on 10/3/15.

(2) We have a choice to believe in God’s power and plan, or not. The Reads have made an intentional decision to reach out to God, helping them to stay strong in their faith. Kelly has kept a “Joy Journal” recording ways she finds joy and “Taylor Winks” in her days.

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Kelly was asked to be a scripture reader on Easter Sunday.

(3) Deep sorrow is a sign of a healthy soul, not a sick soul. The Reads have given each other space and time to mourn deeply the loss of their son, Taylor.

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Construction of Taylor’s Shelter, Summer 2015.

(4) Denial puts off what should and must be faced. This family has made their grief journey a great importance as the days have passed, leading them to more wholeness with each passing day.

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Dedication of Taylor’s Shelter on 10/3/15.

(5) Community during suffering brings healing. The Reads have allowed friends, neighbors, and members of their church family into their lives during this difficult time.

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The shelter dedication on 10/3/15.
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Kelly decides on a tree for her garden.

Our Tennessee Tech University ADPi girlfriend group wanted to mark the first anniversary of Taylor’s passing in a special way. We pooled our resources and asked The Reads to pick out a tree in his memory. On Saturday, we had a chance to visit their favorite nursery and they selected a Summer Gold Dogwood from Oregon.

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We are all blessed to know this precious family.

Sooner or later, all people suffer loss, in little doses or in big ones. Loss is as much a part of normal life as birth, for as surely as we are born into this world we suffer loss before we leave it.

Are you and I ready to allow our souls to grow through loss?

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Paul plants our summer gold dogwood gift.

A deep hole will be dug…representing our grief and pain. Roots will take hold…representing the strength you have given us. Buds will turn to blooms every year…representing ‘because I know deep sorry, I also know unspeakable joy!’ “

Kelly Read in her thank you note to the eight of us for our gift of a tree in memory of her son, Taylor

There is so much to learn in our gardens. This year our crepe myrtles got a big pruning and this picture below is the result. Though it is difficult to imagine, in just a few short weeks, the green leaves will begin to poke out carrying buds which will soon turn into huge clusters of white, pink, lavender or purple flowers which will last for the remainder of the summer here in Georgia. In the fall, these beautiful trees will turn bright red. The growth compared to this picture here seems like a miracle. Our souls can grow in the same way as we walk through loss.IMG_9736

Lagerstroemia indica (crape myrtle, crepe myrtle)
Here is what our crepe myrtle will look like soon!