To all of you

The blackberry bush at my York home is starting to bloom. March 2020

“I want to say to all of you that are reading this right now: You are not allowed to lose hope, because maybe a miracle will happen. DO NOT LOSE HOPE.”Malka Chana Roth

We interrupt these re-runs to bring you a new real time post. I started this blog seven and a half years ago, because the world as I had always known it seemed to be coming apart around me, with Jeff’s terminal diagnosis and the repercussions it had on our comfortable life. Later, in the 20 month period during which I lost both my beloved parents and my husband, who had been my world for 38 years, the life I had known was irretrievably GONE. And more great losses were in store for me, as others disappeared from my life, seemingly unable to walk for very long with me through months and years of numbness and anger and sorrow that never seemed to end.

So for me, there is a curious parallel now in the events taking place in the world. I’m experiencing an odd sense of deja vu. Strangely, while everyone else is talking of feeling isolated, I am less isolated than I have been for the past five years. Suddenly my personal experiences are writ large across the entire world, as unprecedented catastrophe overtakes everyone. The isolation I have endured since Jeff’s death has become my ally in these present circumstances, for which I find myself strangely well prepared. I know how to live in hope, against all the odds.

Reading over the re-published posts from seven years ago, many have commented how unusually relevant they seem now. That’s maybe the best thing to come out of my years of sorrow and confusion, because there has never been a time when defeating despair is more important than it is now. I continue to re-publish these posts in an effort to shine whatever feeble light I can from my flickering candle, into the darkness that has engulfed us.

Cynics might point out that Malka Roth, who was a loving sibling to a child with severe disabilities, lost her own life to an act of violence and hatred that killed many others along with her. Her words have an innocence that makes me weep. I think of her kindred spirit, Anne Frank, who persisted in optimism despite being sequestered indefinitely, hiding for her life. These young women paid the ultimate price at the hands of cruel murderers. Were they wrong to live in faith that things would be better someday? I think not.

So along with Malka and Anne and countless other brave souls who endured the unthinkable, I say to you: do not lose hope. Stay well. Show kindness. Read, enjoy music, connect with loved ones, write journals and letters and poems. And do what my hero, Fred Rogers, told children to do after 9/11: look for the helpers. There are many on the front lines, doctors and first responders and grocery store clerks, showing up at personal risk to help us all get through this. And we will get through it. You are not allowed to lose hope.

36 Comments

  1. Susan

    Bless you, Julia, for always being a bright light starting out our mornings. How are you? Safely at home, I hope?

    • Susan

      I see now that the pretty pic is from your York home; is that where you’re staying, or you at your NoVA home? Either way I hope you’ll have time to share some of your lovely spring pictures 🙂 .

      • Susan, for now we are going back and forth between the two, and it’s giving us a bit of diversion to have two different places to be “sheltering in place.” I took a lot of photos in the York neighborhood on our walk last week. The flowering trees are so lovely. I hope to post about it soon. Stay well my friend!

        • Susan

          I’ll look forward to them! And I’m glad you aren’t having to give up one home or the other for the spring, when beautiful things are undoubtedly unfolding at both.

          • Susan, that has been the hardest thing about convincing myself to give up the York home. The neighborhood down there is so gorgeous and has so many people who love to garden. My lawn care guy texted me a few days ago that all the flowering trees were in full bloom and everything is looking beautiful. My azalea garden in the back corner (pictured on my Facebook page as the top banner) is prettiest at this time of year. And at my northern Virginia home, the pink dogwood is in full bloom and the Kwanzan Cherry tree still has blossoms on it (the Okame bloomed very early and now is covered with leaves). I even have a few irises blooming! Wish you could be here with us (or should I say there with us)? But of course we are together in spirit. ❤

    • Thank you, Susan, I so appreciate your encouragement. Yes, Matt and I are safely “hunkered down” at home, mostly enjoying our time here– though Matt does seem to be getting a teensy bit bored. But not much.

  2. Renee West

    Thank God for your new post. It helps us to realize & embrace our new reality. You have powerful words for the here & now! Much love my friend–God has truly gifted you!!

    • Renee you are such a great encouragement to me. Thank you for your kind words, and for being here with us. Hope you and your family are staying well. I know your daughter is “on the front lines” as a nurse. Hope the work at Natasha House hasn’t been too badly affected. There is seemingly not one single tiny corner of our world that has been untouched by this virus.

  3. Beth

    Julia, the past seven years you’ve experienced much sorrow and grief. I’ve been negligent responding and careless about keeping in touch and maybe being a source of comfort. For this I’m truly sorry. Until lately, I’ve felt unable to talk/write with any depth, except for The most superficial FB posts that serve just more distancing than communication.
    Of course you know my dad died around the same time as Jeff. A double knife in my heart was Sharon’s refusal to speak to him for two years before his death. His grief and hurt became mine as well. Sharon’s husband, Mark died from cancer last April, which really sent her into an emotional and mental tailspin.
    All of my Dad’s siblings and their spouses have now all passed away. My mom’s three sisters have all died. Fortunately, her brother is still living.
    Heroin overdoses and suicides are running rampant through both David’s family and mine.
    I’ve been practicing social and relationship distancing for several years now.
    Mom is in lockdown in her assisted living apartment for almost a month. She is safe, fed and ok with her cat and books.
    Sorry to have unloaded on you! I’m trying to be a better friend, aunt, cousin and daughter, and to defeat despair. ❤️

    • Oh Beth, you haven’t been negligent at all. Remember the sweet book you sent me a few years back? And all the shared book memes! And remember, you were the one who found me on Facebook and put us in touch again. The time around Jeff’s death is still quite a blur to me, so I had not realized that your dad’s death came at about that same time. And I’m so sorry about Sharon being estranged from him. My memories are all of them getting along well when she was a child, with lots of laughter and affection, but so much can change over the years– as I’ve learned to my sorrow. And what a blow to lose her husband so soon after. I had no idea you had lost so many relatives and I’m so sorry the tragedies are multiplying in your extended family. I can remember especially how much you loved your Aunt Evelyn and I know you must miss her so much. I’m glad to know that your Mom is in a nice community where she is cared for, but still, so many moments are being lost…

      I have a lovely photo of you with your Dad at the San Diego pier. I looked for it but couldn’t find it; but “it’s here somewhere” and I’ll try to send it to you when I find it. Here is a bit of humor for you. When I read the part of your comment about your being unable to write much lately, I had a sudden flashback from around 1970 or so, Joyce’s letter (from Ohio) in which she said “…I will have a heart attack if Beth writes.” Do you remember how much we laughed over that?? 😀 😀 😀 All these years later, it still makes me smile…

      • Beth

        Julia, thanks for ending with a memory of Joyce. As I recall Joyce read my diary and repeated passages 😆 This put me in a slow burn for quite awhile. Fortunately I got over my childish snit and we’re now in close contact, and Joyce is one of the reasons for our move to Ohio in a few years. I’m sorry to have written a drama filled comment worthy of a reality show script. 😊

        There have been so many losses for everyone on your blog. My prayer is that as the loss and hurt is tempered with fond memories and the love we received. I sometimes wrap the memories around me, even as I mourn.

        Love you

        • Beth, are you sure that wasn’t I who read your diary and quoted from it? 😀 😀 😀 Joyce and I were often in cahoots, as I recall. I can’t remember liking anyone more instantly than I did her. Anybody who loved to laugh as much as she did was my kindred spirit. Hey, I didn’t know you planned to return to Ohio. Will you go back to the Dayton area? Jeff and I loved it there. No apologies needed for the drama. (What is life, if not one drama after another?) This blog was made for people who are enduring loss, sadness, depression or any other setback…or those who, though happy, are determined to keep looking up, knowing that even the best of circumstances can (and inevitably will) be touched by challenges and trauma. I can attest that being wrapped in warm memories is a sure defense against the cold reality that too often hits us all. Love you too! Thanks for being here.

  4. Connie Clower

    Julia, this is beautifully written as always. I can only say that I totally understand how you feel. While I still have my husband, losing our child 13 years ago rocked our world like nothing ever. Ever since, we have walked in this world, but our hearts have not been in this world like before. And we have felt the isolation from our loved ones because they cannot comprehend where we are. And we are ultimately thankful they do not understand. Since understanding means walking the difficult path of all-consuming loss. It is agonizing to watch a friend, like you, go through this. And the only way we know how to help is to say, we understand. For us, it was like a small part of the burden was lifted to be around someone who had walked the path before us. We hope in some small way we have lightened your burden a bit by understanding your pain.
    Stay safe & remain hopeful by remembering God has carried us through when we have been unable to walk. 👣

    • Connie, thank you so much. And it definitely helps to feel as if SOMEONE “gets it” and we don’t have to explain or justify or apologize. I don’t agree with the old saying “misery loves company.” I think it’s joy that loves company– fun things are always more fun when shared— but sorrow and heartbreak do find solace in understanding, and perhaps only there, at least sometimes. And it’s even richer when those who understand our grief have also shared our great joys. It’s funny; though there were many ways we might have seemed different on the surface– different majors in college, different places we called home, you a college basketball athlete and me a total klutz– I always did feel understood by you (especially about books and boys 🙂 ). So I suppose it’s fitting that we find ourselves, all these years later, sharing the inevitable grief we all must face sooner or later, but still cheering each other on and believing in each other and just being there for each other. Sending love and prayers that you will stay safe, well and happy. Thanks for everything, my steadfast friend!

  5. Chris

    Julia,
    Thanks for a real time update! It’s been a rough patch for many. The measure of difficulty that each is experiencing and will endure, I believe, is directly proportional to one’s attitude, perspective, and faith.
    I’m glad you are able to cope, and see the light within the encompassing darkness.
    Have a wonderful day!

    • Thank you, Chris. My own level of optimism vs. pessimism about our current crisis tends to fluctuate from day to day, and isn’t always connected to external events. I imagine others probably experience the same thing. It’s so hard to know what to think, feel or do about any of this. Truly we are living through history that, if the planet survives long enough, will someday be viewed as a major world event, perhaps a turning point of sorts, though we can’t know what kind of turning point it will turn out to be.

  6. MaryAnn

    I say TERRIFIC, Julia! Living in Hope, walking in God’s Truth, trusting Him; in the face of something the world may see as doom & gloom. Thank you for putting into words that which is the true answer. Each day, we watch videos from Max Lucado & The Father’s House. They have very encouraging thoughts & Bible principles to help us survive & thrive during this uncertainty. On Sundays, we watch church online at tfh.org.
    Hug Matt for me, sending much love to both of you.

    • Mary Ann, the one thing that stands out to be as good about all this, is that it has given me a chance to “meet” online with three different congregations of fellow believers, for various times of worship or Bible study, prayer and discussion. People I rarely get to see (because of geographic distance) feel closer to me recently than before the pandemic hit. The early church, scattered all over the world due to persecution, might have envied our technology!

  7. Love this Julia.
    Our boundaries are set by our mindset. I understand in my own way that of which you have gone through. The only difference in the impetus by which it comes. Yet hope is the sole true elixir. For in it all things are possible and joy cannot be confined.
    I will leave you with my take away from an Easter Sunday post I wrote a few years ago; “The Empty Tomb.”

    “The stone that sealed the tomb of the Savior was found fallen away. And the place where His body had been laid was empty and free of darkness. For that which harbors not life, but death, had not the power to contain “The Light Of The World.”’

    -Alan

    • Thank you so much, Alan. I am grateful for your faith, which I know was shaped and influenced by a mother who let you know that “you are not allowed to lose hope.” Her legacy lives on in you and inspires me and many others as well. By the way– for those relatively few people still living who can remember the polio epidemic and how terrifying it was, this is, in a very real sense, NOT unprecedented. Although my mother was one of its very young victims, I never realized the scope and scale of it until I read a (very historically accurate) novel about it by Philip Roth. As with COVID, there were all sorts of degrees to which people were affected, and far too many fatalities. Iron lungs instead of ventilators, but the same terror of contagion and suffering.

      • Amen, Julia. Due to your mother’s involvement you are well versed. And an important advocate to those so far removed by vaccines. All must know it is only by the grace of God and those researchers who utilize that grace that polio is but an event of the past. It but waits for those with the responsibility to let up their guard.
        -Alan

        • Alan, so true. Because Matt has autism, many people ask me how I feel about vaccinations, as there is a small sub-set who believe some cases of autism were caused by vaccines– but I’m not in that sub-set. When asked, I tell them as tactfully as I can my opinion: that those who forgo vaccination need to re-read history and talk to a few people who did not have the advantage of them. I know anti-vaccine people mean well, but it’s so easy to get complacent when we think the threat of harm is past. This is true for many areas of life, not just vaccinations. Vigilance is always a good idea, especially if we make sure not to confuse it with anxiety.

  8. Martha

    Thank you for reminding us to be full of hope. ♡

    • You’re welcome, Martha! It’s delightful to “see” you here.

  9. Hope is part aspiration and part expectation. It can be a double-edged sword at times. While many found hope in Anne’s beautiful words, I always felt immense sorrow at her loss. I visited the home where she hid all those months and came away with a new appreciation for the circumstances of her short life.

    I’m sorry for all your losses, Julia. Losing one’s parents is certainly inevitable, but to lose your spouse at such a young age, and at the start of what should have been a happy retirement seems unfair. As you know, our mom was widowed at 49 with three girls to raise with a depleted savings (no adequate health insurance) and a meager paycheck. I don’t know how she did it day after day. I hope you’ve cultivated friends that you can see day to day in your community so that you don’t feel so isolated…Doors close, windows open. It’s just a shame that we have to endure death, war, famine, pandemics, and personal loss along the way.

    • Alys, I also had a much better sense of what Anne and her family endured after visiting “the Secret Annex” in Amsterdam. And of course, what we are experiencing in this shutdown, as inconvenient as it may feel, is nothing to what they endured, with several people confined to that much smaller space, all the while knowing and fearing that they could be discovered at any time…which of course, they eventually were.

      I think our generation naturally wonders how widows such as your mother and others in similar circumstances were able to keep going despite all the setbacks. We had friends at church who lost their father when they were very young, and I know from what little I heard my mother say about it that it was very hard for their mother, on so many levels. Women of that era lacked many of the advantages we enjoy today, and certainly mental health was not recognized as being equally as important as what we typically think of as “physical” health, so those facing high stress, anxiety or depression had fewer sources of help and understanding. When I consider these personal stories it reminds me to be grateful for what we do have today. That doesn’t lessen the pain or grief, but it does inspire me knowing that people can and do survive terrible loss. As you say, hope can feel cruel at times, when the story does not end happily. But I do think, as so memorably spoken at the end of The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing.” Thanks for being here!

      • Agreed. Nothing comes close to the horrors of war and to the brutality of those concentration camps. It’s a dark, dark time in history.

        My mother told me she was good at compartmentalizing. She would go to work and pretend my dad was still alive, and then in private she would cry and grieve. She was a product of the depression and World War II so she faced a lot of adversity in her day. It makes you resileint or it destroys you. Fortunately for her and for us she was always able to move forward.

        • Good point, Alys. We often think of compartmentalizing as a bad thing, but it can be good, too. I think Jeff used it facing his terminal diagnosis. He kept it packed up during his everyday work and home life, and only unpacked it at the hospital or chemo clinic or doctor’s offices. It reminds me of something I heard many years ago when I was part of a parent’s special education panel at a conference. A young teacher posed the question of (not her words, but her basic point) how to get parents to face the truth about how deficient their kid really was and to quit expecting too much– how to break through these parents’ “denial.” I don’t remember how I responded to that question but I think it was something to the effect that one must tread carefully if there is not yet a close relationship of trust, and also that parents knew their children best and should be recognized as having insights that a teacher who never saw the kid one-on-one might not have, in terms of what actually went on in their heads. In other words, advocacy is not always the same as denial. But the answer that really stuck with me came from my friend who was also on the panel. She said that a doctor had told her many years ago that a bit of denial was a good thing in many circumstances; that we sometimes need to digest harsh realities in stages of acceptance, and in the beginning, a bit of denial can prevent being totally crushed by despair and depression, rendered unable to do anything at all. That made perfect sense to me. It underscored for me that there is so much gray area in traits and behaviors we tend to label “bad” or “good.”

          • Like so many things in life, its a spectrum. One of the social thinking modules when my son was in school including black and white thinking. Very little in life is good or bad, black or white, in or out. Avoiding absolutes and measuring responses is a good thing.

            I have seen complete denial by parents that prevented a child from getting help and that is always sad to see. That said, I think we all try to do our best as parents, working with the information at hand along with dealing with our strenghts and weaknesses, our history and our upbringing, along with traumas dished out along the way.

            • Have you seen the movie The Children Act with Emma Thompson? It’s an excellent example of just what you describe here. It shows how, with the best of intentions (and even when in the right by most objective standards) it’s a very complicated thing to intervene on behalf of others. There are always ripple effects and unintended consequences. As with the movie Dead Man Walking, probably different people would come away with different ideas about the movie’s message, but it’s definitely one that makes the viewers think about foregone conclusions.

  10. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Loved reading your very new blog post. Yes, Julia, keep shining on. You have a ministry here.

    I’m reminded of this enchanting, hauntingly beautiful music on Youtube that a friend sent to me. For some reason I find it soothing and I replay it every so often. “Charm on goldfinch, charm on”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-XY7ibb990.

    • Thank you Judy, for your kind words about the blog and for sharing that remarkable video. The painting really adds to the music, I think. It does have a haunting sound, doesn’t it? But the lovely watercolors take some of the wistful edge off the song. Hope you and Stew are staying well!

  11. Dear Julia,
    Thank you.
    You have helped me to get up out of bed yet again.
    Love,
    Susan

    • Susan, that’s got to be one of the nicest compliments anybody could give me. It strikes me as more than a little ironic that I, as a person who has such a hard time getting out of bed myself (for my whole life– I can’t blame that on recent losses, though they did make it worse) should help someone else to do so. I guess I need to take my own words to heart more often, especially in the morning! 🙂 Thanks for being here– and stay well! ❤

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