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Sometimes It’s Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By |2020-12-03T20:54:39+00:00December 3rd, 2020|Categories: Laura's Blog|

I was recently at a dinner party and the hostess asked us to go around the circle and share a favorite Christmas tradition that we did with our families. My mind immediately started racing trying to find something to share that wouldn’t leave everyone in tears.  I was having a nice time and didn’t want to be the party pooper.

There used to be many happy traditions.  They seem like a lifetime ago now.

Chuck and I were always off the Friday after Thanksgiving.  That Friday would be our “kick-off” to Christmas with the boys. We would sleep in late, have a lazy morning with a big breakfast then off we’d go to find the perfect tree. We always got a real tree and the biggest we could find.  That weekend there would be no Black Friday shopping.  The four of us would be together focused on decorating the house inside and outside.  Going all out (as much as we could afford).  We would watch our first Christmas movie of the season that weekend, while enjoying the glow of the tree lit up and sipping hot cocoa and usually eating pizza and popcorn.

We made sure to have all the decorating done that weekend because once we rolled into December our calendars were always full.  The boys had school events and practices for the various programs they were involved in. The four of us were always involved in Christmas programs at church, I even wrote some of the programs over the years – so that meant extra time at church in December practicing/preparing. There would also be Christmas caroling and trips to see Christmas lights throughout the month.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around we had already celebrated the entire month, but the thrill of Christmas was just beginning. I remember tracking Santa on Norad with the boys on Christmas Eve.  We would always read the birth of Jesus from the Bible and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and we’d always open one gift on Christmas Eve.  Of course, we always picked the one gift they could open and always made sure it was new pajamas to wear.  And we always wrote our letters Santa and left them out on Christmas Eve with milk and cookies for him.  Trying to get two very excited boys to go to sleep that night was never an easy task.  Then Chuck and I would be up for hours putting stuff together for Christmas morning.

When the boys woke on Christmas morning, they knew to come get us first (if we weren’t already up).  One of us would go into the living room, turn the Christmas tree lights on and put on Christmas music in the background.  Once we were ready with camera in hand, they ran excitedly to the living room to see what Santa had brought.

For Christmas 2001, (they were ages 12 and 10) one of their “big” gifts was an envelope in the tree. The envelope held 4 tickets to a 3-day Christian music festival at Liberty University (Winterfest).  It included ringing in the New Year with some of the biggest Christian artists around at that time.  They were thrilled and that itself became a “new” tradition that we kept every year. We were blessed by the fact that they loved Jesus and loved Christian music.

As the verse in that famous song goes-

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Chuck and I always made it a priority to be off the two weeks from Christmas to New Year’s.  It was a wonderful time of no schedules, sleeping late, hanging out with the boys and just reconnecting as a family before another full and busy year started.  All of that ended in 2008 when Jamie died.  Christmas time (and the entire month of December) became something to “endure” not to look forward to with anticipation.  The first Christmas after he died was horrible and the following years just as bad.  Family members grieving in their own unique way ended up pushing away the ones that loved them the most.  Christmas became a painful reminder of what was.  A home that was once full of life, love and laughter now empty and silent.

Sometimes, it’s not the most the wonderful time of the year

In his book, “Hope for the Brokenhearted” Dr. Terveen writes “going forward through grief, suffering and loss demands our greatest faith and love.  Jesus marched into battle, full to the brim with love and faith. Thwarting the designs of the Devil to make death the last word on the battlefield of people’s souls, Jesus turns the tables by turning his own suffering and death into the very means of life for a myriad of people who give their lives to him.  In the midst of our own pain, our hurt, and our losses, Jesus still comes to us (sometimes waking us up) with his call to go on, to go forward with him through the battles we must yet face in a world still afflicted by heartbreaking pain.  We do not go on alone.  He has gone this way before us, and now he will go forward with us.”

This year will be our twelfth Christmas since Jamie died.  Christmas is still not the same as it was before. The month of December no longer means a month of celebrating for us. Grieving never ends but it can and should change. Unfortunately, though, sometimes people don’t grieve.  Instead they run from the pain they feel.  They try to bury their pain (and overwhelming emotions) in jobs and substances – hoping that will fill the void. And pushing away from anyone that would remind them of the pain. Which only causes more pain and loss. Grief has left our family a fractured shadow of what was.

There will always be an emptiness, an ache in my heart to hear him, to see him, to have one more conversation with him around the dinner table.  But as I’ve continued to “go forward through my grief” and be honest with Jesus about my pain – I’ve watched over the years how Jesus has brought a lot of healing.  In fact, when our family does get together this year for Christmas, I am quite certain there will laughter, fun and games and lots of life in our home that day.

If you’re facing a holiday season that brings great sadness to your heart, please know you are not alone.  Remember the words of Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Your sadness and disappointment are real.  It is okay to bring them to Jesus this Christmas season.  He is the only one who can bring us deep and lasting comfort for life’s sorrows. It is His birth as a babe in a manger, and his death on a cross and resurrection that gives us Hope to endure this life.

 

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes, MA, CATP

Director, Ephraim Ministries

 

More Than 5 Stages of Grief – Part 2

By |2020-11-04T22:58:47+00:00November 4th, 2020|Categories: Laura's Blog|

In last month’s blog we discussed the simple truth that grief is so much more than 5 stages. Oh, how simple it would be if we could simply go through 5 different stages of emotions and then be completely over our pain and heartache.  It might be easier to survive if it you only had to feel 5 different emotions and then you could go back to the regulated emotional state that you were in prior to the death.  However, as discussed in last month’s blog -that simply is not the way it happens.  But unfortunately, due to faulty interpretations of Kὓebler-Ross’s research that has been the presumption of many of over the years.

This month I want to share a little more about the grief process and dispel some common myths. First, all grief is not the same. Grief is an expression of love that the person has for the person whose gone.  Love doesn’t stop because that person is no longer there.  But the one left behind still has the love in their hearts yet they are unable to communicate, to express it to their loved one and thus grief ensues. We tell everyone that they are uniquely created by God.  Yet we expect that all relationships are the same – they are not.

Secondly, not everyone experiences the five stages that Kὓebler-Ross reported on.  Remember her team only observed the ones that were dying – she did not observe the surviving family members. For instance, I never experienced denial when it came to my son’s death.  I was there that morning of the wreck.  I had arrived on the scene about 10 minutes after the wreck took place.  There was no denying what my eyes had seen.  In fact, it would take me years of sleepless nights to get those images out of my head. There was also no stage of “bargaining” with God for me either.  God had already made His decision – Jamie was killed on impact.  I was abruptly reminded of the truth of Psalm 139:16 “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”  God already knew that was the day Jamie was going to leave us.  Which means He also knew that I would have to walk through that horrific day.  He was in control, not me and He had already spoken – there was no bargaining.

Now I want to talk about some of the feelings that I did experience. These are feelings that I have found in to be common in talking with others who have suffered through the loss of a child.  Yet never mentioned in the research on the original “5 stages of grief” by Kὓebler-Ross.

Anxiety are panic attacks are common in grief.  Our sense of control is gone. We feel helpless.  We wonder what will happen next.  I struggled a lot with anxiety so much so, that I struggled to leave my home.  Only my husband knew how much I struggled with agoraphobia after Jamie’s death.  Prior to his death I was an extrovert.  But after his death, I was anxious about leaving my home, anxious about being out in public, anxious that something might happen that would cause me to cry and break down in public.  While I did go out, it was at times quite debilitating and it took a lot of work on my part (and God’s) to help me through it.

I also struggled a lot with the fear of a future loss. Thanatophobia is commonly referred to as the fear of death. I was extremely scared that I would lose my husband or my other son.  I wanted them with me all the time.  I know I annoyed them at times, because if they did not check in when they were supposed to, I would be an emotional mess. I was constantly on edge that at any moment something bad would happen and take them away from me.

Overwhelming sadness was another emotion for me. Loss is heavy.  The death of a child is crushing. As some of the shock dissipates, a deep sadness begins to slowly ooze out of our shattered spirits.   But it isn’t just sadness.  For many, PTSD is a real by-product of the death of a child.  I suffered from PTSD after Jamie’s death.  PTSD can cause distressing dreams, flashbacks to events, intense psychological distress, difficulty concentrating and memory problems, and physiological reactivity when exposed to cues of death.  One thing that could trigger me into a complete and utter melt down was the sound of a police/fire/rescue siren while driving on the road.

H. Norman Wright states “it usually takes 5-10 years to stabilize your life after the death of a child.” Notice he didn’t say “get over it” or “return to normal” – he said to “stabilize your life” and from my own personal experience I would have to say that I agree with him. Even though I was out around people and taking small steps to live again, it was year 9 that I truly felt “comfortable” in my own skin again. In closing, I want to reiterate that grief is not neatly processed and put away in a box within a year.  In fact, grief never ends but how we process it can and should change from day to day. It’s been twelve years since Jamie left us and I still grieve for him.  But my grief looks a lot different now than it did then.  Grief affects our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  If you’re walking through the valley of grief – be kind to yourself – grief is so much harder than people realize!

 

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes, MA, CATP

Director, Ephraim Ministries

 

More Than 5 Stages of Grief

By |2020-10-04T21:58:22+00:00October 4th, 2020|Categories: Laura's Blog|

In the early 1970’s Dr. Elisabeth Kὓbler-Ross and a team of medical grad students participated in a study. They wanted to learn how they could better meet the emotional needs of a person that was dying. The study took place at the University of Chicago’s medical school.  For this study 100 patients were observed.  They had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given one year or less to live.  Kὓbler-Ross and her team followed the medical staff around as they delivered the terminal diagnosis to the patients.  They observed the patients’ reactions to the news of the terminal diagnosis.  Her team then continued to regularly check in on those 100 patients.  Talking with them and observing how they were handling the diagnosis of impending death. It was their observations and conversations with those dying that became the basis of her book “On Death and Dying”.  Her findings were misinterpreted and became widely known as “the 5 stages of grief”.

One of the first things they observed when people were told that they had a year or less to live was – denial.  As they continued their observations, they also witnessed anger, bargaining, depression and right before they took their last breath – most found acceptance that death was imminent.  Kὓbler-Ross and her team never observed or studied the surviving family members – the spouses, the parents, the siblings. The study only focused on those that were dying.  When her findings were published it was meant to be an observation of the emotions people battle while facing illness and dying.  It was meant to be a resource to mental health professionals to aid them in knowing how to better assist those dying. Yet somehow it erroneously became a reflection of how people grieve.  Later in life, she regretted the way the findings were reported and so easily misunderstood.

In her study, she reported emotions as they observed it, so it led people to believe that the grief process was linear.  But anyone who has endured a season of grief, knows that emotions are anything but linear.  You do not experience a singular emotion – you are more likely to experience a jumbled ball of emotions – helplessness, disappointment, bitterness, loneliness, dread, pain and rage – just to name a few.  Her findings also led people to believe that the first year was the hardest and that most of the grief work was done within a year.  This was based on the premise that all the participants in the study had died within a year – so their individual grief had stopped. Remember there was no one observing the family members – the ones left behind.

It has been my own personal experience that the second and third years were the hardest.  Why is that?  There are a few factors that contribute to that.  One is simply because God in his infinite wisdom designed our bodies with a self-protective mechanism called “shock”.  Without that protective mechanism of shock – none of us could survive the horrific realities of death.  In his book “Surviving the Loss of a Child” Gary Roe states “when we first hear the news, time stops.  It’s like someone pushed the pause button on the universe.  Our hearts reel.  Our minds spin.  Shock is normal.  The loss of a child is like being hit by an unexpected tsunami.  It knocks us senseless.” Roe goes on to state “shock is not something we graduate from in grief.  It is something that we move in and out of, numerous times, as needed.  Our hearts need to grasp the enormity of what happened.  Even years later, we might have trouble coming to grips with it.”

For much of the first year, shock is a large factor in our processing but as we are able to move in and out of the “shock” of the trauma, we are also left vulnerable to the rawness of the emotions.  Another factor that makes the second and third year of grief harder is as times goes on, family and friends have usually gone back to their lives.  The initial support group that was there in the early days, weeks, months is now gone.  The one grieving is left on their own while facing the rawness of the emotions just as fresh as they were the first day it happened.

Acceptance was the final stage that was witnessed for many patients prior to their death.  Acceptance for the surviving parent or family member takes on many different meanings. But it very seldom means that they have quit grieving.  You can experience great peace while still experiencing great pain. Acceptance is much like shock.  It’s not something you graduate you from – it’s something you flow in and out of it.  It’s been twelve years since my baby boy left this earth. But it only takes a moment for my heart to find it hard to accept.  Being on the campus of LU and hearing the drum cadence can crush me with emotions I thought I had long overcome.  And the response is never the same. Some days I may hear the drum cadence from the marching band, and I am immediately filled with joy from all the wonderful memories I have of him and his marching band years.  Another day I could hear the drum cadence and it quickly turns into an “ugly cry” because my heart aches with the memories of his funeral and the drum cadence being played.  The cold realization that he is gone can come rushing at me like a freight train and I’m stuck on the tracks unable to move.

David writes in Psalm 31:10 “for my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity and my bones are consumed.”  David realized how much the mental anguish had zapped his physical strength, he felt like a broken vessel and left all alone.  Those are the sentiments shared by many grieving. It takes a physical and mental toll that is not mentioned in the 5 stages of grief.  In fact, mothers who have lost a child are 40% more likely to die within 18 years of the child’s death.  The chances increase if the child’s death was from unnatural causes (like a car accident/shooting/suicide).  The stress of grief triggers numerous physical and biological changes in the body including increased susceptibility to the risk of cancer and heart disease.

As you can see this is a passionate topic for me, and one that I have lots more to write about.  I’m still doing my own personal research on what I think more accurately reflects the complex process of grief.  Grief never ends but how we process it changes from day to day.

For now, and for this months’ blog I’ll also add that I believe there has to be a place of finding purpose in the heart ache.  Otherwise we just accept the loss and if we’re not careful we can become self-focused on our own pain.  If we choose to find a purpose in the pain, it will push us out of our comfort zone to find a way to live again.  And it takes a deep commitment to life to survive the horrific loss of a child.

 

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes

Director, Ephraim Ministries

 

 

 

 

Say Their Name

By |2020-09-04T11:47:14+00:00September 4th, 2020|Categories: Laura's Blog|

I’ve heard many people state that when they are studying the Old Testament, they often skip over all the names of descendants – especially in Genesis – simply because it is too boring to sit and read through all those names.  I must be honest and confess that I have often felt the same way and found my eyes just skimming over the names, not really reading them.  Until one day recently I was reading in the book of Chronicles and the section started with the descendants.  As the list began, I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me to “stop skimming” and to say their names.  I read their names out loud as I said that passage.  As I read their names, I found myself asking “Lord what do their names mean to me?”  I never knew them.

Any parent will tell you that when you are expecting child, a lot of energy and time goes into choosing their name. The name chosen must have significance – something representative of the personality or history of the family.

One of the many heartaches a grieving person faces is the simple fact that many around them will no longer say the name of their deceased loved one.  Some feel it is not appropriate to speak of the dead.  Others may feel that if they say the name of that person it might cause greater pain.  While everyone grieves differently, most grieving individuals prefer to hear the name of their loved one mentioned.

Many believers focus on the verse in Revelation that promises us a new name. And mistakenly think that means we will be different people with different names.

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17 (NIV)

But that new name is something special only known to the person who receives it and to God (sort of like a special nickname you may have for your child). But that special new name does not invalidate the old names.

God calls people by their earthly names, the names given by their parents. He calls people in Heaven by those same names—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for instance. In the book Revelation we are told that the names of the twelve sons of Israel and of the apostles, apparently the same names we know them by, are written on the city’s gates and the foundations of its walls. Our names reflect our individuality. To have the same name written in Heaven that was ours on Earth speaks of the continuity between this life and the next.

I have many loved ones that have died, and people very seldom say their names anymore.  It hurts my heart deeply not to hear their name. While many might not have known them, nonetheless they did exist on this earth. They contributed to the overall history of our planet. And more importantly, they died a believer and I have confident assurance that I will see them again in Heaven.  I think that is what the Lord was trying to teach me about skipping over the names in the Bible.  Those people in the Bible lived and breathed on this earth. If they died a believer, they will be in Heaven where one day I will get to meet them. Those in biblical times had a contribution to history whether large or small.  They mattered.

We will be known in Heaven as we are known on Earth.  That is the promise of the Resurrection – that we will continue to be ourselves in eternity.  And relationships (for believers) will be restored.

Do you know someone whose grieving?   Trust me when I say they want to hear the name of their deceased loved one.  They want their life acknowledged in some way. They want to hear their name and know they are remembered on this earth.

It’s important to remember them, to “say their name.” 

I’ll start – the name that is heavy on my heart this week is Jamie.  Officially born as James Lee Holmes.   

His friends knew him as “Teddy Bear”, “Jamie” and some even called him “James”.                      

 In the early years, my nickname for him was “Mama’s little munchkin” simply because he was born six weeks premature. 

He was such a tiny little thing for several years.   But he grew into a giant of a man. 

He lived on this earth 16 years and 8 months, but he left the legacy of a 70- year old. 

He would be 29 on Sunday, September 6th, 2020.

 

 

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes

Director, Ephraim Ministries

 

Why not me?

By |2020-08-10T13:05:06+00:00August 10th, 2020|Categories: Laura's Blog|

One of the first questions I asked God on the day Jamie died was “WHY NOT ME?” Just 7 days earlier I had suffered a massive heart attack, actually dying once on the table. I couldn’t understand it, why did God spare me and take my son? I yelled at God until I was hoarse, “WHY NOT ME! HOW COULD YOU! YOU HAD ME BUT YOU DIDN’T KEEP ME!” I was hurt, and mad.

I told God “I HATE YOU!”

It was several days or maybe weeks before I apologized to God for my anger at Him. Even longer before I could ask Him those questions again though this time, I really wanted an answer. Before, I wanted someone to blame. Now I needed God to help me understand. There had been numerous people telling me that God had a plan for me, but I could not see it.  Some days I didn’t want even want to try to see it. I was afraid to see it. I was (and sometimes now) still puzzled as to why God had chosen to leave me here on this fallen land. If he was going to take Jamie, why not take me as well?

I struggled with guilt, guilt over my survival in the same week my youngest son had died.   The guilt made it harder to accept this plan that everyone was talking about. What was it? What kind of plan could God possibly have for me and all this pain that life had inflicted on us? As humans, we lack the capacity to grasp God’s infinite mind or the way He intervenes in our lives.  In his book “When God Doesn’t Make Sense”, James Dobson writes “God is present and involved in our lives even when He seems deaf or on an extended leave of absence.”

It took several years but I finally started to God reveal glimpses of His plan to me through my wife Laura. The first couple of years was especially hard on her, both physically and mentally. She depended on me to take care of her.  I was the one who had suffered a heart attack but I was able to go back to work and function.  For me in the early days, that’s how I best handled my grief, by burying myself in work.  She was not able to do that. I felt it was my responsibility to make sure we didn’t go hungry and keep a roof over our heads (and to continue providing for our other son).  There is no comparison to the loss of a child versus a spouse.  But if I had died the week before and Jamie had lived, I don’t think Laura could have held it together. If we had both died, I know she wouldn’t have survived. So, I feel like, the first part of God’s plan was for me to be here to keep our family together in that time of crisis. As time went on, I was able to help Laura out of the depression she was in and our marriage strengthened as we started finding new ways to live again.

Laura decided to return to school and make a complete career change. It was my responsibility to support her in that decision. I feel that was the second part of God’s plan for me.

Throughout this time of grief since Jamie’s passing, we have been contacted by  other families that were suffering through the same grief as us, thus, putting many wonderful people in our life. Laura and I opened our hearts and home to these people. Being there to love and support them as only we knew how. So, I guess this was the third part of God’s plan. Two years ago, we started a support group for parents who lost a child and a year ago that group turned into a ministry.  A calling we both feel strongly about – Ephraim Ministries. Using our pain to be “fruitful in our suffering” and to be able to help others through this journey of grief and pain. God has placed many new people in our lives through this ministry and I proudly claim them all as friends.

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

The grief never ends but Hope in God’s word and hope in the help of friends that are on this journey as well, is what will get us through.  When people go through the devastation of the loss of a child, it’s impossible to see yourself going on living without them.  I see how God is using us – using our pain – using our faith – to encourage others to keep holding on.

Is there more to God’s plan for me on this earth? I certainly hope so. I hope we can continue to bless families with our story of recovery and support them in their journey.  It’s not a quick trip. It doesn’t stop in a few weeks like some “professionals” claim. Grief is a lifelong process, we are continually learning how to cope with it and live life on a daily basis. And to trust in His plan.

In His Grip,

Chuck Holmes

Ephraim Ministries