Walking Through the Valley...

I came here to write about something on my mind, 
and discovered that I never shared photos and news from our family reunion last July. 
LAST July. 
But a lot has happened since then, and I guess it all plays into the same story....
 You've probably heard 'The Lord's Prayer' at some point in your life, right?
I discovered a hidden meaning in one of the verses in that prayer over the past few months...
The line was 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death....'

I've been on that path before. I've had loved ones die, and had to face life without them after they were gone. But over the past few months, the experience that my Mom, my sisters, and I went through has re-defined the term 'The valley of the shadow of death' for me. Now, it doesn't refer to the aching loneliness, the lack of laughter and joy, the absence of the person you love and the deep ache in your soul after loss. No. Now, it refers to the achingly time-bending, unreal experience of waiting for someone you love to leave. The ticking clock and the passing minutes, hours, days as they slowly slip away from life toward death... with no control over the timeline.

That is when that 'shadow of death' comes.... 
it falls over everything, shading it in subdued hues with a chill in the air. BEFORE death, not after.
As my precious Daddy slowly slipped from this life into his eternal home in Heaven, following a quick and ferocious battle with cancer that proved futile, my Mother, my sisters Stacy and Linda, and I cared for him here at home. Over the course of a month, his condition worsened rapidly and we watched him deteriorate. His ability to communicate was lost far before he left us, and all we could do was hold his hand, kiss his cheek, and whisper words of love and devotion to him, in gratitude for all he has done for all of us. We let him know it was okay to stop fighting, and to go on to Heaven without us.

The horrific heartbreak was doing this over and over and over, every day and every night, knowing that it could be his last...... and then it wasn't. We repeated the words every single day, day after day, releasing him... going to bed at night, trusting the hospice nurses to call us if anything changed, and rising in the early mornings with dread. The day my sister Linda had to return home to Wisconsin before he passed was one of the saddest days of my life, because she knew she would never see her Daddy alive again. My heart broke for her.

And then, it came...

On Easter Morning, just before sunrise, my Dad breathed his last breath here on Earth and simultaneously his first in Heaven. He chose a glorious day to make his journey, a day that we will never be able to be sad on, that we will never lose the ultimate meaning of. This Jewish man who became a Christian chose an Easter Morning immediately following Passover to meet his Savior face to face..... how amazing is that?
But the memories.... ah, the memories of the last year and times before that, of such special precious moments we've spent as a family.... they carried us through the last part of death's shadow. Photos of our reunion and drawings by grand- and great-grandchildren filled the wall next to his bed, reminding us and showing the hospice nursing staff just what a remarkable family we have with this man as our Papa. They didn't know him before the pain and silence and waning energy... they didn't see his smile and humor and gentleness. The photos showed them that.
As he went to Heaven that beautiful Easter morning, the sun rose over the mountains in the East - and the shadow of death was lifted from our hearts and our home. He, like his Savior Jesus, is not dead, but he lives! And he lives on in our memories and our hearts as we continue to walk out of the valley of death.
I am beyond grateful for the blessing of having had our family reunion last July.... of almost every member of our family gathering together to celebrate Mom's birthday and the importance and love of each other.
That Dad was there to enjoy those special moments, and that none of us even suspected that he wouldn't beat the cancer just as he had the heart disease and the kidney failure in years prior. That he wouldn't be with us just a year later now seems inconceivable to me....
Those days will never be repeated, but their meaning leads us forward to create more memories together.
Thank you, Dad, for everything.
And I know..... "I will always be with you." There's more to that story, too... 

 The loss of his presence here in the house, and in our family, is still fresh, new, raw, and painful. We still cry and ache and miss him deeply. We know we will for years to come. His mark on the house, on us, is everywhere. My Mom is a woman of faith and strength, and she amazes me every day as I watch her learn to navigate this world without the man who was her everything. Four of his five kids were somehow able to stand and honor him at his service, to speak through the pain and tears so that we could share our remarkable Dad with those gathered to mourn his loss... his influence on us was that profound. For me, this man, who didn't HAVE to, became the Daddy I so desperately yearned for and needed.  
He loved me and healed the broken places in my heart that other men damaged.

My sweet friend Julia, a fellow cast member at Disneyland, 
took the family photos at the Park on the day of our family reunion trip there.
I am so very grateful. 


Be the Light...

In life, Robin Williams caused us to laugh, to cry, to look at life from a new perspective.
In death, he has thrown wide the doors to open dialogue about the serious disease of depression.

Let us take up the cause and learn what depression IS and DOES, and get over the stigma of it all, then reach out into a hurting world  - in our own communities and towns and schools and churches and and neighborhoods and families - to save one another from this hideous affliction. Ann Voskamp's words in her blog post here capture the hopelessness of a soul in torment, and offer the way from darkness to light. Though she intends her words to be a message to the church itself, it is so much more than that. I hope that all of my friends and family will read her post, to better understand how every person on this earth can be an agent of hope and grace to a hurting soul. There is no shame in depression, except that which the suffering soul feels about him or her self.
Help break the cycle. Reach out, and be the light in the darkness.

I owe my life to the two loving people who did that for me.

Until one awful day in 2011, I did not want to die - no, I wanted to fight.
Not fight WITH, but fight FOR. For what I believed in, wanted, dreamed of, and worked so hard for, when it all came under attack. And then I learned the truth was that I had been fighting against something all along - for years - and when that truth became clear and my heart shattered, I knew that the fight was over and the dream was dead and I had lost everything that mattered to me. Everything. My husband, marriage, family, children, grandchildren, business, home, my dreams, my perception of what life had been and was, my future, and my own identity. I had no idea anymore what was real and what had been a lifelong lie. That awful realization was a pain that I could not bear, and I saw only the need to escape it quickly rather than die a slow, agonizing death as my world closed in on me. The beach was a four minute walk away from my house, and my plan was to walk out into the cold water of Puget Sound and just keep walking until it overtook me. I laid in bed through a very long night planning my escape, after spending 24 hours in the most agonizing physical and mental pain I had ever experienced while enduring the most humiliating and damaging intentionally-inflicted acts of hatred that anyone had ever unleashed on me. The things that I had I heard and viewed and experienced in the space of 24 hours had hollowed me out completely. I was no longer me. I no longer had faith.
And that was when the hopelessness of depression overtook me.

I never went down to the beach... because I awoke to a miracle the next morning.

Two angels reached out to me, one who stood at my bedside and one who held a phone on the other side of the country, and spoke hope to me and reminded me of God's Grace. They continued to do that EVERY SINGLE DAY for two years. My Mother and my best friend Lori were angels who held me up when I could not stand and who emotionally carried me when I could not walk, who refused to let me go when all I wanted was to escape the horrific lie that my life had become. They rescued me by reminding me that God's Grace could get me through this nightmare. That I meant more to them, and to Him, than giving up on. They walked and talked with me each step of the way as I began to take my life back, to find out who I was and to believe that I could have a future. It would look very different than the one I had thought I was going to have, but it would be mine. And they reminded me of my value and worth and purpose with every step. Lori spoke or wrote the words of Romans 8:28 as a promise to me every day, so that I would remember and believe that God had a purpose for all that I was going through. Other angels came alongside and offered encouragement and love, acceptance and healing, in an outpouring of kindness that was to my soul and heart like water is to dry ground.

The depression I experienced for two years was utterly debilitating, and yet very few people actually know how far gone I was. There are those close to me who will not, can not, ask me about it or ever begin to understand what I went through. Some of them have supported me through it, and some have not. I was very good at pretending that I was 'okay' so that I wasn't a burden to anyone anymore, and to assuage those who told me to 'just get over it and move on'. I never should have done that - I dishonored myself, and lost an opportunity to share the seriousness of this disease with them.

Depression doesn't give up easily. Eventually, MORE pain came my way - more loss and more fear and more guilt. I took it in and prayed for strength and refused to slip backward into that bottomless dark pit of despair that yawned open behind me. It was a battle of will to not give in to the echoes of pain again. I had to make myself pray, write, listen to uplifting music and sit in the sun, and allow God take me to the deeply damaged places within my soul - so that He could heal them. I revisited my childhood fears and coping skills. I endured the pain of remembering hateful words and actions made to me and BY me. I cried over the lost innocence and dead dreams in my heart. I mourned what never was, and what would never be. And yet I did not do that alone, because my angels walked that path with me. The friends and family and professionals that assisted me in my healing believed that I could be strong enough to do that hard work to heal. Now, I see that healing. Yes, I still have moments of extreme pain and sorrow - but the depression is gone. The scars remain, but are no more than reminders of how far I have come. My healing journey has revealed information and knowledge about what it was that I had been dealing with in my life, unbeknownst to me, and that has helped me to heal.

I am grateful beyond measure for the life I have now, for the restored connections with my children and grandchildren and parents and siblings, and for the chances to say 'I Love You' to them that I would have missed if I had ended my life back in 2011. My Mom and Lori saved me from death - death of MANY kinds - and gave me the gift of life that I am thankful for every single day now.

As for God's purpose for me... maybe it's transparency about the darkness I walked through. Maybe someone I love and know needs to hear that depression can be survived. That no matter how deep the sorrow and pain, it can heal. That life can be worth living again. Maybe in His wisdom, God will use my journey and story to be the light that pulls someone else out of the darkness of depression. My heart is open for Him to use me in any way He chooses... if it's for you, and you want to talk, I'm here. <3>



Life brings so many scenarios, situations, and opportunities to lay at our feet... 
literally asking "so, how are you going to handle this? who are you going to choose to be?"

An odd situation at work has me rather un-nerved.
Though I've joked about how sad I am that an elderly man is the first man to ask me out on a date since I was 17 (because my last 'first date' was when I was 17 and my late husband of 32 years asked me out), and the situation escalated to my feeling like I am being stalked, I actually am touched by this man's reaching out to another person. Even if it's me. Even if it's uncomfortable.

And in the aftermath of last night, I've made a mind-shift:
Instead of being 'weirded-out' by this, I have realized that there is a very real, hurting human being behind it all.

I'm part of a private group on facebook called 
'Second Firsts: Live, Laugh, and Love Again'.
It's not all about losing someone to death, though that is part of it.
We can lose those we love in many ways, even if they still live on. Perhaps that is harder, in a way.
In any case, I have learned SO MUCH from the wonderful souls in that group.They have bravely shared their stories, thoughts, fears, and journeys with one another because that is part of any healing process...
telling our stories and having our experience validated.The group is moderated and founded by Christina Rasmussen, who authored the book 'Second Firsts'.

It has been an amazing experience to read her book and connect with others who are on a healing journey.
They've helped me look INTO a person instead of AT a person to discern what their real story is...
And what I see now when I look at this late-eighty-something man is not a desperate guy looking to hook up with a younger woman, but a hurting heart, and empty hours. Empty rooms.
Fearing an empty life alone.

I am sad for his loneliness. 
I am sorry that he has lost his life companion, because when that happens I know a person feels adrift and lost and alone and suddenly un-moored from all that they knew. I know that moments will come when he sees or hears or reads something that will cause him to smile, look up, turn his head, and open his mouth to share it with that person who has been by his side for 52 years - and she won't be there. He's having to adjust to a whole new life, existence, schedule, and definition of who HE is in her absence. Yes, he's still the guy who comes to the park and says hello and chats and smiles. But I've been told they used to do that together... so he feels her absence even there. No amount of smiles and visiting and hugs from guests and cast members can fill that void in the heart of this hurting man. I've been told he has other problems, which I would surmise makes his adjustment to his loss and his changed life MUCH harder. He's in pain. He's grieving. He's JUST two weeks out from losing his wife... honestly, the pain probably hasn't even begun to set in yet. He's in shock.

I've also been told that I look like a much younger version of his wife - and that opens a whole new door for me in understanding why he has expressed interest in me. I"m not really 'me' - I'm her. The love of his life. The way he remembers her. He's trying to connect to HER, not me. That just breaks my heart. When I was 15 and my grandpa died, I looked for him everywhere. I wanted to find him again. I 'saw' him in so many people.... years later, I even jumped out of the car at a stoplight and chased a man with a snow-white crew cut and khaki work clothes - because I SWORE it was my grandpa walking up the steps of a building. It wasn't, of course, but my broken heart wanted SO BADLY to connect with him again that my mind played tricks on me. I think this is the situation with this man. He misses his wife, his companion, and he thinks he sees her in me.

Because it is the best thing to do, I will not accept his invitation to lunch (nor any other invitations in the future), and I will tell him that in the kindest way possible. With compassion. But firmly and clearly, so there is no misunderstanding. Though I've been told I may have to REPEAT that explanation several times, due to his 'forgetfulness'  - and apparent persistence.

Meanwhile, I am asking myself "Why has this man appeared in my life at this time?"
Part of it is obvious to me: to help me reinforce my boundaries, something I have been learning about for almost three years now. I need to assert myself and tell him no. I don't need to accept the lunch invitation because I feel bad for him. But I DO want to be kind, and to reach out to a hurting soul the way that I feel my Lord would want me to. So when I see him next, I will kindly refuse his advances - and then ask him to tell me about his wife. I will validate his love for her and his loss, hopefully to help him deal with this huge shift in his reality. I won't take pity, or try to fix him, or put myself in an unhealthy position - all things I have done before - but I will respect him and respect myself by simply being kind to another person. With limits.

This is the new reality I am creating for myself, in the aftermath of MY loss: 
Deb will still be kind, but Deb will NOT be a pushover or a doormat, and constantly put other people's feelings ahead of her own.

On a related note, I have to say that line the from the film 'The Blind Side' REALLY means something to me now... When people 'have your back', and step up to protect you, it feels AWESOME! I work with the BEST team - from fellow cast members to leads to managers, they ALL jumped in immediately and did everything they could to remove me from a very uncomfortable situation onstage last night, to communicate kindly with this guest, and to keep things positive for everyone. Without me even saying a word. A fellow cast member went offstage and told the manager what was happening to me, and the team snapped into action.

I feel safe. I feel protected. I don't feel alone. 

In MY life, that's HUGE.
I am truly so grateful that I am where I am in life... I've experienced things that have been more painful than I could have ever imagined. And I survived.
Through it all, I have prayed that it wouldn't be for nothing. That something good can come from it all. 
Since this situation has landed at my feet, my goal is to take all that I have experienced and learned,
and to express the compassion I have for this hurting man following his loss in a way that opens the door to healing for him. So that he doesn't feel so alone with his grief and pain.

Because Alone is hard. But not impossible to survive. 


Goodbye, Sweet Sweater Pumpkins...

 Since I first shared my original sweater pumpkins here on Hummadeedledee 
way back in 2007,  and so many photos have been pinned from those posts,
I wanted to share this announcement here, too...

 I have decided to stop making my original Sweet Sweater Pumpkins.
That means I am clearing out the storage unit of all of the stock remaining from last fall's 'harvest',
and NOT stockpiling thrifted sweaters to make more.... for the first time in six years. 

These sweet little pumpkins have been a big part of my life since 2008, when I first sold them.
I am VERY grateful for the opportunities they have created for me.
But it's time for me to let go of what I've done in the past and keep moving forward.
(Great advice from Walt Disney himself!)

Here's the BIG reason for selling them off right now:

My entire family is coming to Southern California at the end of July 
as part of our huge family reunion for my Mom's birthday...
I'll get to see my daughters and their husbands, my son, 
and my four grandchildren all at once again!
I want to help them get here AND go to Disneyland for a day, 
because having all of us there together on 'It's a Small World' is my goal!
So every cent I make from selling the last of my pumpkins
will go toward helping my family get here.

Thank you all for your wonderful support of my little business...
I have so enjoyed the connections I have made with you!
I hope you continue to enjoy the pumpkins and snowmen 
that you have graciously ordered from me over the years!

Please visit my HOMEWARDfound website to order