Monday, August 25, 2008

What do you want to leave behind?

This past month has been an interesting one as we’ve parched through my parents’ possessions.
It’s been a lot of tears as we’ve remembered the good times, and laughter as we relived the adventures, There was stuff to throw away and stuff that we took into our homes cherishing it for the next generations.

But mostly for me, it was a time of learning and understanding.

One neighbor kiddingly came over to ask if we’d found anything shocking or of noted interest as we went through their things.

“No”, we responded, “They were pretty much who we had always believed them to be.”

We found love letters to each other and journals that expressed their thoughts and feelings. We found boxes and boxes of pictures that captured every worthwhile memory and some that we wish hadn’t been captured. We found temple clothes and patriarchal blessings, notes and letters from each of us and pictures we’d drawn – all stuff that would have been boring to the outside world (no novels to write here) but all things that gave us comfort nonetheless knowing that our parents had loved and cherished us and given us a good life based on eternal principles.

It wasn’t until I got home, though, along with all of my mothers papers that I did find something shocking – something that I’d never known about her. As I opened one of her boxes, I found her most cherished collection – one none of us had ever known she’d even had.

We’d known about her Santa collection and about dad’s book collection but this was something that was near and dear to her heart that in the quiet of her room dictated her loves and desires.

For years in her nightstand I’d seen a highlighter and a small pair of scissors and had wondered why she kept them there because I’d never seen her use them. Of no great consequence,….until I had opened this box.

Inside, placed lovingly were hundreds of clippings out of the Church News of a feature called ‘Applying the Scriptures’.

For the better part of 20 years, my mother had carefully cut these little features out, highlighted the things that stood out to her and had then gone to the scripture referenced and used that as a study guide as she studied. More notes had been made in the margins of her scriptures as she gained further insight.

Suddenly this box full of what at first appeared to be nothing more than a collection of recyclable goods, took on whole new meaning and gave me insight into a part of my mother’s life that I had not know before.

She had not made it a public practice of showing that she had done the right things but had simply and quietly just done them. And I, nor any of my siblings, had ever known the deep commitment and faithfulness with which she had lived her everyday life in this one area until after her death when I so fortuitously had stumbled upon her most prized collection.

The whole experience made me really think about what I want to leave behind. What do I want those who come after me to find that will dictate my life, passions and desires? And furthermore, what do I want to collect for my own personal enjoyment rather than for the sake of the world?

I also have to admit though, that I can’t wait to see my mom’s neighbor again so that I can tell him that I did find something shocking that gave me new insight into who my mother really was.
I will also gladly share with him that her heart, passions and desires were more than I ever could’ve dreamed of and that I can only hope to follow in her footsteps one day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Room for Two

Think of the most heart-wrenching tragedy a person could suffer and then mix it with a dose of honesty, healing, understanding and a happy ending and that's what you will find in Abel Koegh's book Room for Two.I was admittedly a little bit hesitant to read this one since I am a self avowed sucker for fictional stories that I know are going to end up with a happy ending. Abel's story is anything but happy but I can honestly say it is inspirational and once I picked it up, I could not put it down (much to the dismay of my 14 year old so whose triple I missed at the ballpark since the book was blocking my view)!

It cannot be easy to write about your wife's suicide while she's 7 months pregnant and the resultant death of your daughter but what caught me about Abel's story is the raw emotion and the honesty with which he told his story. As a reader, one cannot help but connect with him on his journey of healing and moving on. I could only marvel at his strength and wish to be more like him as I face my own challenges in life.

Ever being the journalist I am though, there were a few questions that I had to ask. I share those along with his responses with you now;

Me - For many men, it is hard to be brutally honest about their feelings and yet in Room for Two, you are so honest, it makes one stand back in awe and admiration especially about the feelings you had over the guilt in not listening to the promptings before your wife's death. How did you find the courage to be so honest and why did you choose that route?

Abel - I tried to read several books about losing a spouse in the months following Krista’s death. I found them to be preachy, boring, and full of self-pity. They rang less than true with me. When I decided to write a book, I vowed not to make same mistake.

I couldn’t write a lie or leave out certain details or scenes just to make myself look good. I had to be able to live with the final product. If anything came of my honesty, I hoped that if people read about my own mistakes, readers would be less inclined to make the same mistakes in theirs.

Me - Many of us unfortunately have lost children - myself included - and a day does not go by that I do not think about her. Do you ever find yourself looking at other children and wondering what your daughter would be like, what her interests would be and counting milestones as if she were there? What helps you get through those days?

Abel - Sometimes I think about what Hope would be doing, but not nearly as often as I used to. It’s probably down to just a handful of moments each year. It helps is that I have three children – two sons and a daughter – with Julie. I fully concentrate on watching them grow and develop. They are the joy of my life.

Me - In your healing process, anger had a big role to play. How would you advise others to handle the grieving process in such horrific tragedies?

Abel - Find a healthy way to deal with your grief. For me it was getting up at 5:00 a.m. and going for a four mile run. I could force all my anger and issues out during that time so when I was done, I could concentrate on simply making it through another day. I tried not to let my grief, anger, or other issues not spill out into my work, friends, or family.

Me - You had known about Krista's genetic background with mental illness. For others who fight depression or other forms of mental ailments, what is the best advise you could give them?

Abel - Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Whether it’s a family member, doctor, or other mental health professional, if something is not right, let someone know and try to figure out a solution to the problem.

Me - For quite a while you fought with the demons that overcame Krista. Did you ever have that moment where you came to truly understand what it was that tormented her and the meaning of her cryptic message on the answering machine?

Abel - I have no idea what her answering message was trying to communicate. I simply chalk it up to her frenzied mind and that she saw no point in hanging around this world.

Me - Despite all the heartache, you have been blessed with another good woman who has helped heal your heart and shown you what it is to love fiercely again and shared with you the joys of raising a family. For those who are having a hard time seeing that there may be a brighter day ahead, what advice can you give them?

Abel - Life is about making the most of the hand we’ve been dealt. Each morning we have a choice to be either a victim or a hero. Victims let things beyond their control rule their life. Heroes make the best of their circumstances and try to improve them.

I firmly believe that most of our “living” takes place in the gray matter between our ears. Whether we’re happy or sad, miserable or at peace though most of our life is a direct result of how we choose to view the world and the choices we consciously make.

Me - And do you still run? Who is winning now? ;-)

Abel - We still run but having three young kids have forced us, for the most part, to keep separate exercise schedules. Julie works out in the morning. I do it during my lunch break at work. We still try to make time to run on Saturday mornings. Julie still wins – even when she’s pushing a kid or two in our running stroller. She’s a very gifted athlete.

Me - This last one is for your wife if she doesn't mind,....Abel wrote of a bit of hesitation in getting involved with a man with such a unique past. How did you overcome those trepidations and what advice would you give to other women who want to love a widower but are afraid they might get stuck 'competing' with memories? You are a remarkable woman and I thank you for allowing your story to be shared with us.

Julianna - A lot of it had to do with the way Abel treated me. He always makes me feel like the number one woman in his life. I really don’t have to worry about competing with a ghost because Abel never makes me feel that way. For other women who are dating widowers, my advice would be not to settle for someone who’s having a hard time treating you like number one. If you feel like you’re always being compared to a dead woman, get out of the relationship.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to find inspiration

For those of you who would like to get your own copy of Abel's book Room for Two click here .