Thursday, December 28, 2017

This Christmas

Spent time with my family in Chicago this Christmas.  Far cry from what I've become accustomed to… being at home, waking up on Christmas morning, lying in the bed listening to Joseph’s and Jasmine’s early morning laughter, as they try their best to stay quiet waiting for us to come downstairs.  It was like that up and until that last Christmas we had together, December 2014.  Didn’t matter how old they had gotten, at 21 and 26, they would still anxiously await Christmas morning and the time we spent together celebrating and opening gifts.

Ever since they were little, every Christmas morning we would pray, read Scripture and have a morning devotional about the birth of Jesus.  We would sing a song or two and then we would pass out the gifts, sometimes opening them one by one (person by person), with all eyes on one, so that we all could share in the excitement over what was under the wrapping.  Joseph seemed to have a little system of opening his, choosing to unwrap the more “interesting looking” presents first.

After the gifts, someone would go and make breakfast.  In the latter years, that someone turned out to be Jasmine, who had to make some new dish she discovered in her cooking ventures.  And usually around that same time, just before we got to eat, Brandi and Christian would arrive, and we would do the gifting all over again.

For years, all the day long, it would simply be “just the six of us.”  And we would spend the day “playing” with new games or gadgets, watching Christmas movies, maybe a basketball game or two, while Christmas music played in the background; followed by a nice spread for our Christmas feast.    That last year we did ‘A Little Taste of Italy’ from the appetizers to dessert, and even had a printed menu.  But this was Christmas to us.   Christmas as we knew it to be.   The ghost of Christmas past it has become that I have tried so desperately to escape.

Fast forward three Christmases later, but ONLY a little over two years since we lost Joseph, here we sit on a cold Chicago morning, 15° at 8:54am, so unlike every other Christmas morning that I remember.  There was no Christmas tree in the airbnb that we rented for the week, nothing about it in fact, said Christmas at all.   We were in what Chicagoans call the South Loop, and unlike our neighborhood at home, there are no lawns draped with Christmas décor, and hardly any holiday lights on the street that we called home this past week. 

The absence of Joseph is so apparent.  And as much as we try to be normal, there is no normality to our life when part of it has been stripped from our circle.  Of life.  My heart screams for him this Christmas morning even more so, as I think of my girls (and Christian) and realize Joe is not here again, and Christmas can never be the same.  Each one will take on a different meaning and present brand-new challenges to make it through.  For me.  For us.  And this year was certainly no different.

We’ve made the most of what we’ve had to work with the last two Christmases, mostly because of Who we know the celebration is for.   Jesus.  As we are reminded of the hope we have in seeing Joe again, because of the sacrifice Jesus made.   Born to die, so we may live.  That’s what my spirit man says.  But my natural stance, says, we can’t, I CAN’T, despite our being together, help but to be mindful of who is yet missing.  Joseph.  Taken away far too quickly and gone much too soon.

As I sat there in Chicago, I suppose that will never change.  Whether we are in the comfort of our own home, which we elected to do that first year; whether we are in the warmth and the beauty of the island of Antigua, which we chose to do last Christmas; or whether we are in the bustling, windy and blustery city of Chicago, we, I will never escape what has become the ghost of our Christmas past.   Trying to live on without Joseph. 

By the grace of God, we’ve made it through another Christmas, finding joy in each of the activities Jasmine had scheduled for us, which included an escape room, the Field and Science Museums, the infamous Willis Tower with the glass floors, and an excursion through the Lost World of Jurassic Park Exhibit (something Joe would have loved).  We even had the opportunity to attend our first Ballet.  But the last thing we did, just the five of us, topped it off, as we had a waiter who introduced himself as Joe, at least three times.  That was when we smiled and remembered that Joe was with us.  And it was “just the six of us” once again, just like it used to be… even if for a moment.

Reminded me of something though, what the Who’s in Whoville sing from the popular Christmas tale of The Grinch, we got to watch again this Christmas… “Christmas day is in our grasp as long as we have hands to clasp. So, the ghost of Christmas past cannot haunt me if I continue to hold on to the hands I NOW have to clasp.  And the memory of the one that I lost. 

Yep.  Christmas will never be the same again.  I won’t hear the playful laughter of my girls and Joe having fun on Christmas day ever again.  I won’t overhear their quiet chatter as they wait for us on Christmas morning.  And I won’t ever be able to see the giant grin or appreciate the smile that really did light the room from my Joseph, again.   At least until the time we get to see him in heaven. 

And what a Christmas that will be.   

Awaiting that day, in the shadow of grief,
Sis. E and Joseph's mom

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

King, Indeed

It’s the Christmas season and what some would deem as the most wonderful time of the year, myself included. And it certainly is, as this is the time of the year that for those who believe celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ the Messiah. Yeah, some say the day is pagan, and He wasn’t born December 25th. And for whatever other reason, refuse to celebrate the Christ in Christmas. But the fact, rather Truth, remains. Jesus Christ was born a babe in a manger, He died and He rose again, all so we can have eternal life in heaven. So it really doesn’t matter what day, or date it’s celebrated… it’s cause enough to rejoice and celebrate. So say what you must, but as for me and my house, we believe and know Jesus IS the reason for the season.
Okay, so now since the disclaimer has been made, let me get back to my point. Words to the songs of this season tend to jump out at me, still. Each year some taking on a different meaning. I recently spoke to my church about one song in particular, “One Little Christmas Tree" by Stevie Wonder. Spoke volumes to me, which I will share another time as led. Anyway, it’s Christmas, the season of miracles, the season of the birth of Jesus, and there’s a song that I’ve always loved and may have even spoke about before. But right now, it has taken me in a totally other direction. The name of the song is “Who Would Imagine A King?” sung by the legendary Whitney Houston.
It’s been 2 ½ years since we lost Joseph. Our one and only son whose life was stripped away when a driver decided to run a red light. Side note: It still bothers me to hear of people driving reckless and even the more so when I see pics that others have posted while they are in their cars. And what bothers me most of all streaming live on Facebook, while doing it. Its careless, reckless, and inconsiderate for those like me who lost loved ones in an auto incident and of all the other drivers on the road. Please know that if you do this, “ You are and what you have to say, is NOT that important.”
This is our 3rd Christmas without our beloved Joseph. He was 22 and just discovering who he was. Finally gaining confidence in what he had to offer this world and thriving in his ability to deliver spoken word poetry. Joseph loved to perform. Although he worked with his dad for a living and loved “working among lawyers" it was behind the mic, he became alive. I miss my Joe dearly and there is never a moment in the day that I do not think of him. Even in the midst of joy, there is never a time I don’t feel the pain of his absence. Truth be told, if I could go back to that day, even to the very beginning, I would do it in a heartbeat
For the last three days, though, I could not shake this song from my spirit. Dreaming of it, hearing it over and over, waking up to it. And as many times as I heard this song, yesterday, which was actually one year to the date that we buried my brother (I don’t know, maybe I was feeling super emotional), but yesterday these words came alive to me…. “of all the wonderful things he could be, who would imagine a King?”
In this song, Whitney Houston, sings from the heart of Mary, Jesus’ mother, expressing all the things that Jesus could have grown up to be. But of all the things she imagined Him to be, He grows up to be a King. Namely the King of kings. But here is the good news, for those that believe in Him, He has made kings as well. For the Scripture says, we are a generation of kings and priests.
But most importantly in all this, is what God spoke to me and has been speaking through this song. gave me in this was this. My Joseph performed a spoken word where he spoke of being a king. He was this, that, fell short in some ways, and in the lessons that he learned, he knew he was “walking like a King.” And so I was led to write this, and to make this video in honor of Joseph, walking like a King in heaven. So grateful that he realized it before he left this world.
So this is for you Joe, “walking, walking, walking like a king.” King, Indeed.
In the Shadow of Grief,
Sis. E
Joe’s mom
(I do not own the rights to this music)

Monday, September 25, 2017

It's Morning...

It’s morning,
And I can hear the birds chirping as the hatchlings eagerly wait to be fed, and the parents scour the grounds for worms.
I hear the whispers and laughter in the distance as children on their way to school stand at the bus stop.
And I hear the voices of the teens that walk there.
Toddlers are whisked away in their strollers and by hand, on their morning walks with the grands, as I hear their playful conversations.
Other little ones ride by in excitement and wonder on scooters and tricycles, as I hear “stay on the sidewalk.”
Neighbors go about morning activities, as I hear the wrestle with trash cans and lawn mowers.
And I hear some chatting as they gather at the mailboxes, to collect mail from the day before.
Cars whiz by as their drivers make their way to work, or run their morning errands, as I hear the music in the background. Joyfully.
And the sound of dogs, big ones and little ones, vying for position startle me with their barks.
It’s morning.
There is activity all around me.
But inside, inside there is silence.
The house so still I can hear the softness of my scarf as it falls from my hair on the hardwood floor.
The house so quiet, my thoughts are awakened by the sound of its stillness.
And the reality settles in once again.
It’s morning.
And you are not here.
And although it takes everything in my being, to get up,
I arise,
Because it’s morning.
And I must go on.
In the shadow of my grief….

Sis. E and Joseph’s mom
Copyright 2017

Joseph Malik Fannell
January 14, 1993 – June 5, 2015

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Great Pretender

Many years ago, there was a song called The Great Pretender sung by the Platters.  Many of you know me personally and know that this song is not quite my generation.  I belonged to the more disco and original hip hop era.   Anyway, one morning during my devotional time with the Lord, God spoke to me and said that’s what you have been these days.  The Great Pretender.  As I was taken aback a bit, the Lord told me, as He often does in situations like this, look up the words.  And so, I did. 

Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.  Pretending that I'm doing well.  My need is such, I pretend too much.  I'm lonely but no one can tell….

I stopped there and questioned the Lord a bit, reminding Him of just how real I have been.  Am I not honestly telling people how I feel?  Am I not telling them what this grief walk is really like?  Am I not yet declaring the Truth of Your Word?  How am I pretending, Lord?”  And the Lord answers because He knows everything.  “You seem to be, what you’re not, you see… you’re weary, but no one can tell.”   Yes, you are doing all those things, but at the same time, you are yet holding back.  You’re only telling half the story.  You’re giving them glimpses of what it’s like, but not presenting a full picture.  You’re only telling what you want them to know.  Amid everything that I am bringing you through, you are pretending that you’re doing well.  You’re pretending that everything is yet okay.  Yes, I am good.  Yes, I am God and people need to know that.  But if you hold back the depth of your pain, you will be holding back the depth of MY deliverance.  Stop covering up the wound.  You will not heal completely, if you keep hiding what really hurts.  Reveal it.  Be honest with yourself.  Be honest with Me.  Let others know that you are not okay, but you can be.  You shall be.  Confront the pain so it can be dealt with.  Pain is not pretty.  Glossing over it does not help you, just like semi-gloss.  It doesn’t make anything look better.  It doesn’t hide imperfections.  It merely tries to give it a shine.  This is REAL TALK.

Ouch.   Oh, yes, I'm the great pretender.  Adrift in a world of my own.  I've played the game, but to my real shame.  You've left me to grieve all alone…

You see it was just a week ago that I found out about the death of Anthony Rodriguez, my neighbor’s son and a childhood friend of Joseph’s. To hear him tell it, as he relayed at my Joseph’s funeral, Joseph was his best friend and they became friends, simply by riding their bikes together in a circle, for a week.  😊  That’s what he said.  And they remained friends throughout high school.  So Joseph’s death hit him hard. His mom told me of how he struggled with Joe’s death and even just talking about him.  She told me how Anthony wore the green bracelet every day, that the New Jersey Sharing Network gave us for donating his organs, and how much Anthony loved and guarded the bowtie of Joe’s he wore to Joe’s funeral and how no one could touch it or Joe’s funeral program.  It was because of Anthony and Joseph that my family and I became friends with the Rodriguez family.  He was our neighbor, he was Joseph’s friend and he was only 24.  The age Joseph would have been today.

I had heard that Anthony went into the hospital complaining about a headache only to never return home.  He died June 10th of unknown causes, just two years and five days from the date Joseph died.  His death hit us almost as hard as it hit his family, as we relived every single moment of Joseph’s last days leading up to his burial.  So many similarities between the two, the timing, the people, the service… the last time we walked into that church was the day we buried our own son.  Have not been there since and here we were having to come face to face with this again.  And the pain remains the same.   Yet another person had to bury their child.  Their 24-year-old child with a lifetime of things to accomplish and memories to make.  Just like my Joseph.  “These things should not be,” I repeat to the Lord, for them, as I have done for us countless times before.  A parent is not supposed to bury their child.  And so, as I woke up this particular day, I could not help but feel tired.   I could not help but feel bloated, overwhelmed, shaken.  Weary.  Once again overshadowed by grief. 

For two years I have struggled with Joseph’s death.  I still have my questions.  I still have my doubts.  In the midst of my joy, I still cry.  I still sit awake some nights.  I still want to hide and stay in the bed some days.  Losing a child, grieving a child is like a never-ending nightmare.  You sleep, and then you wake up to find that the nightmare is real.  Your child is still gone.  What you believed could never happen, would never happen, happened and you are yet here to face it, to continue to live it, every day God gives you. 

Too real is this feeling of make believe.  Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal.

And as much as I fight to overcome on a daily basis, sometimes moment by moment, I am yet faced with the harsh reality of this is how it is.  And so, I continue to push.  I pretend.  I put on the smile that I’m expected to wear.  I put on the clothes that help to brighten my spirit.   Wear my bowties in every way I could find, in my ears, on my fingers, on my neck, on my nails, on my wrists, with my wallet and pocketbook.  I do the things that seemingly make me happy or used to, like shopping, puzzles or silly little Facebook games.  And all the while I still have this thing gnawing at me called grief. 

Yes, I'm the great pretender.  (Just like the Lord said).    Just laughin' and gay like a clown.  I seem to be what I'm not, you see.  I'm wearing my heart like a crown.  Pretending that you're still around.

And now since the pot has been stirred up all over again, all the things and in all the ways that I have found to adjust, I am yet forced to find another.  But I won’t do it by pretending.  I won’t do it by offering to be someone that I am not.  I won’t do it by giving simple words of platitude or by using cliché church sayings.  I can’t do it by the rules of society and who says what, or where or how things must be done.  I can’t do it by being politically correct.  I won’t pretend.  I can’t pretend.  I can only do it by being me.  I can only do it by revealing the pain that it caused me.  The pain of the gut-wrenchingly honest, take your breath away, truth about death.   About grief.  

And then as I do, and as God did for me, with the comfort that He has given me, I may be able to be a comfort to others.  Without reservation and without pretense.

No more great pretending for me.

Still serving.
Sis. E and Joseph’s mom

Joseph Malik Fannell
January 14, 1993 – June 5, 2015