Another Piece of the (grieving) Puzzle

I woke up crying today. And raindrop tears were falling outside.

raindrop tears falling in Timberlake

raindrop tears falling in Timberlake

This is a holiday; a day to celebrate time with family. This is my birthday; a day to celebrate ME. But instead, I’ve been crying for the past few days. I’ve wished this day could be skipped and we could just move on to Tuesday. All of which makes me angry…

This day is also my son’s birthday. He should have been 21 today. But he died five years ago and the picture of my expectations was broken into a million pieces. My bright and colorful life became a puzzle that had to be put back together again.

The first year was hard. The pieces of life were scattered and there was no picture to guide me in reassembling the puzzle. Even the bright, colorful shards were little help. They were hard to recognize in the gray fog of grief. Gradually the outlines were rebuilt that first year; with a piece here and a piece there fitting together. We rebuilt mother’s day and his birthday…click. We survived family gatherings…click. We tried new ways of doing Thanksgiving and Christmas…click. We got through the anniversary of his death…click. The corners and frame for “Life Without James” came together and the first year was finished.

The second year was a little easier. Putting together a puzzle always goes more quickly once the outer edges are clear. It even seemed, at times, like we had glimpses of the guide picture. It felt like we had some clue of what on-going life was going to be like. And it would be okay…

In the years since then, we keep working at the puzzle. I am less afraid of the holes, knowing that a new picture will fill in the empty places. When I find myself sobbing (or angry), I’ve learned to twist the pieces this way and that, looking at the situation from different perspectives. Eventually, I find the missing piece and one more bit of the puzzle comes together and fills the hole. The grief is still there, but it is less fearsome when fitted into a larger picture.

I woke up crying today. And it took a while to figure out why. This hole is bigger than a shared birthday. It is larger than a gray, rainy day. This is a jagged edged gap that threatens to swallow me in to nothingness. Until another piece of the puzzle fell into place this morning…click.

"Grieving Jesus" at OKC Memorial

“Grieving Jesus” at OKC Memorial

Since James died, we have lived in temporary settings. We wandered the West in an RV. We lived with family while we went back to school. We worked with at-risk youth in Navajoland. We lived with family again through five months of unemployment. All of these things were safe. The bits of the puzzle put together in those areas felt secure. A picture of what life might be like was coming together. And it would be okay…

Then my husband started a new job…back in Ohio. We bought a house…back in Ohio. Life is moving forward…back in Ohio. And that makes me angry. I don’t WANT to be in Ohio. I want my temporary living back. I want the guide picture back. Living in Ohio has too many holes. James is missing wherever I turn. Life is turning back to what it was before he died, but he is no longer here to live it with us. Family and friends who never visited us in our temporary settings are already planning to visit us here. Here in this place and in this home that James will never be part of. Ahhh…another piece of the (grieving) puzzle is coming together…click.

There is comfort in seeing the shape of this little piece. There is comfort in knowing the puzzle will continue to be put back together. There is even comfort in understanding this hole. But comfort still doesn’t feel good. My life shattered into a million pieces five years ago. And sometimes I just want the old picture back.

raindrop tears and an empty bench at Timberlake

raindrop tears and an empty bench at Timberlake

I woke up crying today. And raindrop tears were falling outside.


Exactly Where I Need to Be

I usually post original thoughts here on my blog. However, I saw this on a friend’s blog. I have watched it over and over for the past few days. I love the beauty of the dance. And the words seem to fit quite well with where I am at right now. On the one hand, our family still has NO idea of “what’s next.” On the other hand, I’m doing better (for now, at least) at “BE-living” (my word for 2013), being comfortable with and taking pleasure in the moment, rather than worrying about and focusing on the future.

Hopefully some (if not most) of you will enjoy this video…and the lyrics written below. (I recognize that these lyrics are not “Christian” — but I think the song still holds wisdom for ALL of us.)

(or click here to see video in another window — HOOP Dancer Video)

Exactly by Amy Steinberg

i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am a blessing manifest
i can undress the moment
naked time unwinds beneath my mind
and from within i find the kind of beauty
only i can find
i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am surrendering so willingly
to be the perfect me inside this now
and truly how else could it be
destiny she blesses me
when i try to fight or run
i only wind up back at square one
when i think i know what’s best for me
fate she takes me back
to exactly where i need to be
i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am divinely timed and shining brightly
yes i believe that there’s a purpose just for me
yes i believe that we are light
and we shine infinitely
i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am not aimlessly existing see
i am in perfect harmony with universal energy
and i am truly free when i accept my own divinity
look at me look at me closely
what exactly do you see
if you are paying attention you will now begin ascension of the mind
why, because if you look at me just right you will see a kiss
for it took a kiss to make this breath exist
the intersection of my mother’s and father’s lips
to touch twist and perfect what came next to produce me
look at me and you will see the breeze
the breeze it took to shake the leaves to make
my mother’s hair move, my father dare touch it and say
please may i have a kiss
yes the breeze made me exist
and if you want to get even deeper into this
when you look at me you will see a cloud
the cloud it took to form the storm to shake the leaves to
inspire the liplock – yes a raindrop will pop up out these words
you heard me right
if you look at me close enough you will see a dark stormy night
and what is night without it’s polar opposite of sunlight
so if you watch the way my hands sway
you’ll see the light of day
and everyday is a testament to the sediment of the earth’s core
it’s ever spinning enormous force so if you look at me just right
you will see a spark of the source
but the most fascinating thing about this, and it’s true
is that if you look at me close enough, you see you
it’s only what you perceive how you believe the space between
you and me
that creates reality
so when i sing you can feel it
when i cry you can heal it
when i speak words you can be the words i speak by singing with me
peace love free
peace love free
peace love free
and when i am alone and full of fear
i just remember the rising sun always appears
everyday miracles that i see
well they take me back to exactly where i need to be


Most of you know that I’m a list-loving gal. Making lists helps me clear my brain; helps me think, and plan, and organize. Once they are made, I don’t necessarily have to follow the lists. It is the making of them that is significant.

For those who have followed this blog for the past year and a half (really? It’s been that long?!!), you have seen my lists of things to do. You read my plans for a “personal year of jubilee” leading up to my 50th birthday. You heard some of my resolutions and listened to my ramblings about “what’s next.”JILL EMMELHAINZ-0008

As this year ended, I tried to join some friends in looking back over 2012. The idea was to answer questions and capture the highs and the lows of the past year. Somehow, I just couldn’t get motivated to do that pondering.

And as the new year loomed, I tried to get excited about making new lists; lists to give direction and focus to 2013. Usually I find such list-making to be invigorating. But, again, I was totally unmotivated to do that type of pondering. (I know, I know…I must be ill…no lists?! How could that be??)

At first I thought it was because of the traveling I wrote about last week. After all, wandering in Europe with 2 of my daughters is compelling. And living with friends in Germany for a few months is exciting.

But eventually, I realized my hesitation at list-making was something more than not being a focus of time and attention. I realized that God has been trying to call me in a still, small voice.JILL EMMELHAINZ-0047

I haven’t wanted to hear what He is calling me toward. It was easier to ignore that quiet voice and strain to hear a roaring thunder of clear direction. As a friend likes to say “first-born have to be in control” and I’m definitely a first-born. And I like to be DOING, keeping busy, helping others, exploring my surroundings, trying new things, pursuing dreams, encouraging others to do the same.

My call for this year? My “one word” for 2013?


I am challenged to live a life full of “being” this year. Active living, not just sitting around; but focused on “being” rather than “doing.”

I will keep you posted on how I do with this great-big-challenging-task…

(Photos taken by my friend and professional photographer, Jo Blackwell. See her website HERE. Specific wording of “be-living” came from a blog post by Ann Voskamp which can be found HERE.)

Lessons in Procrastination

I have always heard that procrastination is a bad thing. Sometimes I beat myself up about this character flaw. Other times I just laugh about being an adrenaline junkie and needing a looming deadline to kick into high gear.

Early this summer I realized it was time to jump through the hoops and get our 15 year old son his driving learner’s permit. I knew the process with our older kids—walk into the license bureau, pick up study materials, have the teen take the written test, sign up for driving school somewhere in the neighborhood.

But that was back in Ohio—a very civilized, generally-has-its-act-together state. Now we live in a remote area of New Mexico. Things work differently here…

I discovered that walking into the license bureau was ahead of myself. My son needed to be signed up for drivers ed since he is still under 18. So, I went back home and researched online driving schools. I found an affordable one, but when I tried to sign up our son, I discovered I was (again) ahead of myself. He had to be registered as a homeschooled student with the State so I could give his registration number. I tried that process, but didn’t get a number. In frustration, I gave up.

Over the next few months, I regularly added these tasks to my to-do list. And I regularly ignored them, working on other projects instead. Our son was busy with other things and didn’t hassle me about the lack of progress in getting his learner’s permit…but I beat myself up about it.

I avoided it and avoided it and avoided it. Eventually, this fall, I decided I just HAD to sit down and do whatever it took to get him that permit. And now, 2 online homeschool registrations (does this mean the state thinks there are 3 JLE’s being homeschooled out here this year?!), one form mailed to the Transportation Department, one on-line school registration, and two (count ‘em, TWO) more trips to the license bureau later…he has those temps!

And…when he was asked if he wanted to be an organ donor, it suddenly came crashing in on me why I had procrastinated so long. Yes, I often put things off. Yes, I hate red tape and inefficient bureaucracies. But this time, that wasn’t really the cause. There was a lesson to be learned behind the procrastination. Something to be faced…

I realized this teen’s older brother had proudly gotten his temps 5 years ago. Once I explained what being an organ donor was, that son felt it was OBVIOUS that everyone should say yes to being a donor. And then just a few weeks before he could take the driving test and get his license, that son died unexpectedly. And, yes, we donated as many parts of that body he no longer needed.

But…but…but…I really didn’t want to face the idea that my current 15 year old is almost the same age as his brother was then. (Actually, on Sept 12 this son is now older than his brother will ever be…) I didn’t want to explain organ donation again. I didn’t want to look forward to the big day of another teen earning a full-fledged driver’s license…and never reach that day.


Maybe next time I repeatedly put something off, I will look behind the procrastination. Perhaps there will be another lesson to learn, another hurdle to cross, something else to sort through. Perhaps procrastination is NOT always a character flaw…but is a sign of a wounded heart.

(PS—as I was putting off writing this blog post, I found a really good book about procrastination on the “new books” section of the library—it’s a quick, encouraging read. Go find it…now…not later!!

quick encouraging read…

The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing*   by John Perry        *or, getting things done by putting them off)

Hated Goodbyes…

I greatly enjoyed a few days with both of my older daughters recently. It has been a year since we were all three together. Some days that makes me sad. Some days I HATE the goodbyes.

But the time we do get to spend together tends to be sweet. Oldest daughter Celia lives and works in Kazakhstan in Central Asia. Middle daughter Nettie is finishing up a seasonal job with the Peregrine Fund in southern New Mexico. Celia was home for just a few days so we arranged a get together for the three of us. (Thanks, Hubby, for letting us spend the money and the time to meet together!)

Crafty Time Together

We met at a scrapbook/craft retreat at a camp in Capitan NM. We had almost 24 hours together to laugh, talk, get crafty, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. I worked on a scrapbook all about Girls and Girlfriends—time spent with my daughters and other special women in my life. Celia finished an altered book she started many years ago, and painted a picture of her cousins. Nettie hand-crafted some beautiful cards. Yes, time to craft was good…but time together was even better.

Then at the end of the weekend, Celia and I drove 4+ hours to Deming to spend another 24 hours with Nettie and her work/room mate. (16+ hrs of driving in 4 days all within one state…distances out here in the West still confound this eastern girl…but that’s another story for another day!) More time together to laugh, talk, get silly, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. (Plus we got to see the hacksite where Nettie spends her mornings and evenings releasing endangered falcon chicks to the wild…another story for another day!)

Silly Time Together

Chili Mangos — Hot and Sweet

On Monday afternoon, we spent a few hours at the local fast food joint, using internet. At first I thought it might be a waste of valuable relationship time…but then we started sharing things we were reading, music we were listening to, and helping each other find resources. Turns out it was another chance to spend time together to laugh, talk, learn something, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. Plus, we got good drinks for cheaper than *bux prices!

Computer Time Together

But then that dreaded time came. The time to say Goodbyes. Did I tell you I HATE goodbyes? Yeah…

And just a few days later it was time for Celia to get in the car and head to the airport, leaving for another year in Kazakhstan. Yes, another dreaded goodbye…

I’ve been thinking about that. Perhaps we should not have encouraged our kids to follow interests and passions. Perhaps we should have kept them close to home. (Of course, we keep moving where “home” is located…but you get the idea.) If the kids never left, there wouldn’t be so many goodbyes…

But as I’ve thought about that, I realize without Goodbyes, there are no reunions. There are no happy Hellos. We would start taking each other for granted. We might not set aside time together to laugh, talk, have fun, eat, and enjoy each other’s company and that would be a bigger loss.

I guess I just have to accept all those hated Goodbyes…and look forward to the next Hellos!

Waiting for the next Happy Hellos!

“Heaven’s Gift”

I’m playing 5 minute Friday along with other folks at

Want to play Five Minute Friday? It’s easy peasy!


1. Write for 5 minutes flat on the prompt- no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. Meet & encourage someone who linked up before you.

OK, are you ready? Give us your best five minutes on:



Thirty years ago I was pregnant with baby number five. Oh my, was I grumpy. I had been on the pill. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We already had enough kids. Why, oh why, was another one on the way? And this one was so active—seemingly always flipping and spinning morning, noon, and night. All I wanted was some SLEEP!

And then our red-headed mischief was born. And within a few weeks he was smiling at us. And I realized that what friends had said really was true. He was indeed heaven’s gift.

He was no saint growing up. He was an obnoxious little brother. And sometimes so “full of himself.” He was talented athletically but that didn’t excuse “lording it” over his big brothers and sisters.

He fell in love with the feeling of flying over the ice; dancing, spinning, and jumping as a competitive figure skater. As long as he had ice time he was happy. And his smile…ahhh…his lovely smile. It lit up a room. It stayed with you long after he had bounced off to do other things.

But he was still a mischief, still bending rules til they almost broke. He spent far, far too much time on the computer, playing Puzzle Pirates as captain of an on-line “crew.” So much for the “one hour of screen time per day” family rule…sigh…

And then, almost four years ago, he reached the pinnacle of gaming. He won a major competition against players of all ages from around the world. He WON! He was (obviously) SO excited… And we eventually learned what he named his prize, a monkey to sit on his shoulder in the game: “Heaven’s Gift” He laughed, he talked incessantly about it, he pondered what to do with his prize (he had been offered zillions of on-line dollars to sell it).

a stain-glass window we had custom made after his death to include James' Puzzle Pirates figure with "Heaven's Gift" on his shoulder...

But just four days later, he was gone. Our gift from heaven was back in heaven too soon—jumping and spinning and laughing with Jesus.

Some days I still moan “why, why, why…” And on other days I celebrate the memories of the time we got to spend with Heaven’s Gift…

Love you, James. Miss you…

On Patrol…

Seven years ago at this time of year, I was getting ready to start classes to become a National Ski Patroller in northeast Ohio. The first night was simply a registration session, time to pay for the course and pick up the syllabus, the big thick textbook and the almost-as-thick workbook.

As I drove to that first session, I had a panic attack. I started shaking and had an overwhelming urge to turn around and slink back home. This was a strange reaction for something I was looking forward to! I stopped in a parking lot and called a friend, explaining what was happening and asking her to pray for me.

nsp jacketAs she prayed, things suddenly became clear. I was hearing echoes from middle school—not athletic enough, not good-looking enough, not special enough, to join the “popular crowd.” In my mind, ski patrollers were the golden people, the good looking ones at the ski resort, the hot-shot skiers, the “in-crowd.” After all, EVERYONE wanted to wear one of those nifty jackets with the big cross on the back and be the hero to save people’s lives!

Once I recognized what was causing me to panic, I thanked my friend, hung up the phone, gulped a few times, and finished driving to that sign-up session. Yes, the training stretched my brain at times. Yes, I wasn’t sure I could master everything required to become a ski patroller. Yes, I was nervous about passing the skills test later that fall. But…I stuck with it.

I became one of the “golden-people.” I got to wear that special jacket. Even being overweight, older, and not-so-coordinated couldn’t stop me. I, yes I, was part of the National Ski Patrol.

Over the past seven years, I have enjoyed patrolling in a number of settings. I gained an instructor certification for the emergency care part of the certification process. With the encouragement of patroller friends, I persevered and gain my “senior” certification.

on patrolIt was often said that fellow ski patrollers become “family.” I wasn’t so sure about that. I enjoyed spending time with new friends, with mentors, and with fellow instructors. I delighted in helping students find the “aha moments” as they put together knowledge and skills in the classes. It was fun to see my kids get involved in the Jr. Patrol. But “family”? I already had plenty of that.

Then one of our sons died unexpectedly. Beyond close friends, church friends, and family, we were also joined by ski patrol “family” while we waited and mourned on that long, long day at the hospital. In the days and weeks following our son’s death, my ski patrol “family” surrounded us, bringing food and stories and cards and love. Yes, I realized, they truly were more than friends. They proved themselves to be “family.”

Our family moved to a remote area of New Mexico almost two years ago. We are working with at-risk Navajo young people. I love what we are doing. In addition, I am jumping through the hoops to transfer my EMT-B certification (earned before we moved out here) from Ohio to New Mexico, am taking an on-line instructor certification class, and am considering doing the work to get EMT-Intermediate certification.

I only wish there were ski resorts within a reasonable drive. Too bad the sheer-sided mesas out here don’t hold enough snow for skiing! I’m confident I made the right decision to not renew my ski patrol certifications…

…but I sure miss being one of the “golden-people.” I miss wearing the special jacket with the big white cross on the back. I miss being a hero to save people’s lives. Most of all, I miss my ski patrol “family.”

I was reminded of all I miss about being a ski patroller when I saw THIS VIDEO posted on facebook. It gives an excellent picture of what it is like to be a member of National Ski Patrol. I only wish it showed an older, overweight, not-so-coordinated patroller on the smaller hills of Ohio. Then it would truly be a picture of my experience as one of the elite—of me “on patrol.”

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