“Gravity has taken better men than me
Now how can that be?
Just keep me where the light is
Just keep me where the light is.”
-John Mayer, Gravity
A few weeks ago, Avery found her beloved hamster curled in a ball, cold and unmoving. She came to me in urgency, praying that she somehow misinterpreted the lifelessness of Mochi’s little body.
When I confirmed her worst fears, she knelt down in front of couch and buried her face in the sofa pillows. She alternated between weeping and asking why, as we do when something we love leaves us forever.
After holding her and crying with her, we decided it would be best to bury Mochi that night. My husband Scott suggested Mochi might like to be buried beneath the “GB tree,” which we planted one year ago in honor of his father who passed away unexpectedly last March, leaving us all weeping and asking why.
As I rummaged through the garage looking for a tiny box in which to place Mochi, I felt anger building up inside me. I abruptly stopped searching and focused on the cold garage floor beneath my bare feet. The floor felt cold and wet; the result of having weeks of too much rain and not enough sunlight.
Tears dripped from my eyes.
“Ok, March. That’s enough,” I shouted in an angry whisper.
March had taken enough.
Mochi was buried a few minutes later in a tiny, bright yellow box with his full name, Mochi Soda Pop Stafford, written in purple marker by his beloved owner.
As the three of us stood over the Mochi-size hole in the ground, Scott plucked a little pink blossom from his father’s tree and handed to his heartbroken girl. She placed it on the box while I spoke loving words about the joy that little black and white critter brought us during his short time on earth.
Despite the cold, dark night air, we stood beneath that small blossoming tree longer than necessary. While there, it occurred to me that the first anniversary of GB’s death would arrive in less than two weeks. March was not about to get any easier.
“Pay attention,” my heart said.
And that is what I did.
Over the next few days, I watched Avery and the way she handled her grief. She wrote about Mochi, and she wrote to Mochi. When presenting me with her beautiful notes, she explained that she wanted to capture memories of Mochi “before they faded.”
Throughout Avery’s mourning period, she frequently asked me to tell her stories and read her stories.
“What’s Mochi doing right now? Tell me a story about Mochi in heaven,” she’d ask.
She had me read picture books to her like I did when she was little. Matthew Paul Turner’s vibrant, gloriously affirming children’s books were reached for most often, and she often lingered on this particular page in Matthew’s latest masterpiece God Made Light.
Avery surprised me with humor during her time of sadness. As we scrolled through loving condolences from readers on the Hands Free Revolution Facebook page, one reader signed her sympathy note, “Love, your guitar friend.”
“My guitar friend?” Avery said curiously taking a closer look at the person’s photo. “I don’t know her, but apparently she’s my friend. Must be your writing. Nicely done, Mom. Nicely done.”
Oh, how we laughed and laughed.
Quite fittingly, Daylight Savings Time came in the middle of Avery’s mourning period. March is taking again, I thought to myself irritably. This time, it was taking an hour of our precious sleep, along with our morning sunrise.
After the third pitch-black morning wake up, Avery decided she needed a “happy drawer” to pull open each morning to make up for the lack of sunlight. She cleaned out her junk drawer and made it her “happy place.” Uplifting signs were placed in the corner of the drawer, along with photos of Mochi, a journal of Mochi memories, and coloring supplies.
One morning after Avery left for school, I looked into her happy drawer for answers. I was a week away from the anniversary of my father-in-law’s death, and I felt compelled to do something for each person who loved him. Yet, I was at a loss what to do.
As I touched Avery’s collection of bright colored balloons, I recalled an exquisite poem that I’d been keeping in my phone. It was entitled, WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE DEEP IN GRIEF:
“When you meet someone
in deep grief
slip off your needs
and set them by the door.
Enter barefoot into
this darkened chapel
hollowed by loss
hallowed by sorrow
its gray stone walls
You, congregation of one
are here to listen
not to sing.
Kneel in the back pew.
Make no sound,
let the candles speak.”
– Patricia McKernon Runkle
I now knew exactly what to do. I lit a candle, took out a pen and paper, and invited words to come for a brokenhearted son … sister … daughter … grandchild … niece … and friend.
What appeared on the page were things I’d never written about before: Love in jars of M&Ms, connection in cans of Coors Light, memories in boats docked on water, and birds gathered at feeders.
The candle was speaking.
Its message specific to each intended recipient.
I packaged the gifts up, so they would reach their destination by March 19, the one year anniversary of Ben’s passing.
Within days, I learned the candle’s words reached hurting places, raw and tender, bringing comfort, understanding, and laughter through tears for those who loved Ben.
On the morning of March 19th, it was my turn to mourn. Alone in my house, I held a photo that had taken me three days and fifteen albums to find. The photo was taken on my wedding day by one of my special education students. Eight-year-old Annie managed to capture that look of pride I loved so much about my father-in-law. He was so proud of his kids—you could always see it on his face. And Ben always made it clear that I was one of his kids.
As I sat in the light of my glowing candle, I suddenly remembered a forgotten memory—meeting Ben for the first time at his son’s college baseball game. His kind eyes and gentle voice were so welcoming that my nerves fell away. Ben’s kindness made me feel like part of the family from the minute Scott said he loved me.
That memory had faded, but it resurfaced in the candle’s light.
All at once, the bleakness of March was no longer something to be cursed; it was something to be celebrated. The darkness of this month created tiny spotlights on what was most important: family, kindness, laughter, love—life’s most precious commodities that I often squander in the name of productivity and efficiency.
Every sacred and precious moment I’d experienced during March’s darkness was echoed in a captivating study by Dr. Alastair McAlpine. As part of his graduate studies in pediatric palliative care, the doctor asked his young terminally-ill patients what they had enjoyed in life, and what gave it meaning.
“Their answers were surprising and positive,” Dr. McAlpine reported, “In fact, they made me completely re-evaluate my relationships with friends and family.”
All six of the children’s lessons on what gives joy and meaning to life were powerful, but four of the lessons and the children’s corresponding responses were particularly moving to me:
1. Spending time with family and pets is incredibly important.
‘Mum and dad are the best!'
‘My sister always hugs me tight'
‘No one loves me like mummy loves me!'
‘I love Rufus, his funny bark makes me laugh.'
‘I love when Ginny snuggles up to me at night and purrs'
“Whether talking, laughing, playing, or just sharing silence, time spent with loved ones and pets was priceless. Towards the end, the only regret many of the kids had was that they didn’t get to spend more time,” Dr. McAlpine reported.
2. Humor and laughter are vital.
Almost all of the children loved people who made them laugh:
‘That magician is so silly! His pants fell down and I couldn't stop laughing!'
‘My daddy pulls funny faces which I just love!'
‘The boy in the next bed farted! Hahaha!'
“Finding levity in the face of overwhelming tragedy can be difficult, and some of the parents dug into unimaginably deep wells of courage to provide mirth when their hearts were breaking. One dad pulled funny faces through his tears. But it always paid off,” Dr. McAlpine wrote.
3. Good stories told and read by a loved one offer inspiration.
ALL of the kids loved books or being told stories, especially by their parents:
‘Harry Potter made me feel brave.'
‘I love stories in space!'
‘I want to be a great detective like Sherlock Holmes when I'm better!'
“Many believe that our ability to create and share stories is what defines us as human beings, and these kids demonstrated that. Stories inspired, captivated and transported them,” said the doctor.
4. Simple acts of kindness were treasured and remembered until the very end.
Almost ALL of them valued kindness above most other virtues:
‘My granny is so kind to me. She always makes me smile.'
‘Jonny gave me half his sandwich when I didn't eat mine. That was nice.'
‘I like it when that kind nurse is here. She's gentle. And it hurts less'
“Kindness was the virtue that made the biggest impact on the children. They loved kind people and remembered acts of kindness until the very end. The last words I heard from one little girl were: “Thank you for holding my hand when I was scared.” (source)
What gives life meaning, articulated so beautifully by these brave children, is what I witnessed in March’s offerings.
Yes, I said March’s offerings, not takings.
I’d mistakenly been focusing only on what March had taken from our family, instead of what it was giving us … that is, until a grieving girl and a burning candle shed light on the matter.
I’d cursed Daylight Savings Time when I should’ve been cherishing it.
The ‘mourning’ darkness was profoundly illuminating.
You see, when light is taken away, we are forced to become each other’s lanterns … we are forced to stop moving and listen to the candles speak … we are forced to empty junk-filled drawers so there is room for joy, happiness, and love to come in.
Daylight Savings Time. We need not wait for the light to come back to save us; we only need to look to each other to find it.
Thank you, bleak, rainy, depressing March. I will embrace you when you come around again, for now I see what I did not see before.
Dear ones, my first session of Soul Shift (my new 8-week online course) recently concluded. The shifts experienced by the members echoed my own; there was growth, healing, connection, forgiveness, and self-discovery that changed the way we saw ourselves, our loved ones, and our circumstances. I have no doubt my Soul Shift family was instrumental in the profound discoveries I have written about on my blog over the past two months. Here is one of my favorite testimonies from a Soul Shifter:
“Wow, I can’t believe this. Tonight, my husband said, ‘how are you liking this book you are reading and the course you are taking? Because I’ve noticed a big change in you. It has been a drastic change in a short time, and I really like it. I feel like I can be better to you too because it is making me feel so good.’
Someone pick me up off the floor, I just fainted! I realize that there will be ups and downs in the future, but I finally feel like I am becoming the mom, wife, and friend that I’ve always wanted to be. I didn’t need to be like someone else, just a softer, more present and authentic version of me. Thank you, Rachel, for giving me the tools to do it.”
Friends, I hope you will consider joining me for the next session of Soul Shift beginning April 23. You can enter your email address here to be notified when registration opens at an early-bird price.
In speaking event news, I will be speaking at the University of Central Missouri on Thursday evening, May 3. This is the inaugural event for the Whiteman Spouses’ Club Speaker Series and is open to the public. The WSC provides resources and support to military families at Whiteman Air Force Base and to their surrounding communities. Tickets now available here.
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What a gift to learn that a page in my book is shining a little light for Avery as she mourns the loss of Little Mochi.I’m so grateful for that. And I’m whispering prayers for Avery now. Peace to you, sweet girl.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, dear one. What a precious gift you are to the world.
Priscilla Bettis says
You’re such a good mom to Avery (to both of your daughters).
The most out-of-the-blue thoughts come to me when I read your posts. Like today: We have ZERO candles in the house. I’m usually not a candle person, but once in awhile, their symbolism conveys the perfect message to someone who’s hurting or someone who needs a glimmer of hope or someone who wants to reflect on God’s love. I keep saying I’m going to try my hand at making candles. Maybe it’s time to do so.
Rachel Stafford says
Oh please do! I would love to know how this adventure turns out!!! Love to you, friend.
I fell into a very dark time when I lost Baby, my Yellow Labrador.
I said the harshest things about the dumbest things, things that don’t even matter. I lashed out at family. I lashed out at friends. I even said something a few times about committing suicide. And yet, no matter how deep my depression became, I could not bring myself to get another dog, because I felt that would be replacing Baby. She deserved better than that. I didn’t realize until 6 months later that having a dog was not optional. It was an absolute requirement. If I expect to live, I NEED to have a dog in my life. There is no way around that. So, I eventually caved in, and got another dog.
A year and a half so far of having this dog, life has not been remotely this good since University. In addition, I finally managed to get another job. New car, several new guitars, I feel as though I am finally building my life again, instead of that decade of watching life collapse around me. I owe it all to having a dog in my life. His goofy antics are exactly what I need every day. He is also incredibly distracting. When I really should be doing anything else, I end up playing with him. At work, I find myself thinking about him, and I just want to go home, and play with him. He has brought very-much-needed life back into my life.
I neither know why, or understand why, but the human species has become so attached to furry animals, that we are now incapable of life without them. Or, at the very least, life without a furry animal at your side is a life not worth living. I hope Avery takes solace in her other furry companions. Right now, she needs them more than they need her.
Rachel Stafford says
This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, heart, and hope.
“March’s offerings, not takings.” Yes. I agree. I, like all already sleep-deprived Mamas, had been dreading the extra hour of sleep lost when Daylight Savings Time went into effect, and it’s been brutal; however, I’ve been enjoying the extra sunlight in the afternoons. We’ve eaten dinner almost every night with the blinds open, letting the natural light in, and bedtime has been unhurried as a result. Blessings are always present; we just need the perspective (and maybe a little extra light) to see them.