Time for Redbuds to Bloom and to “Re-Dream”
Ecclesiastes 3: (1) For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. (2) A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. . . (4) A time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve and a time to dance.
The redbuds bloom as a reminder that it’s the beginning spring. They’re also a reminder for us that it was six years ago yesterday (4/4/14) this bright beautiful smile left our physical world, but her love and spirit will remain in our hearts forever.
We should have celebrated her graduation from college and wedding in these last six years and would be welcoming grandkids (perhaps through fostering or adoption because she couldn’t have children of her own). Instead, we are learning how to navigate without her and finding new ways to fill the gaping holes. At times we are blessed with sweet reminders of her and in some ways, even feel her presence guiding us through and know she is still very much a part of our lives. I’m reminded of how much love we’ve been shown both with the immediate support after her loss and the continued caring of sweet friends and family over the years.
I’m also reflecting on the new friends I’ve met along this journey because of a shared experience of loss and the important role that has played in our grief and healing journey. It was about a year and a half in when a friend invited me to an informal, local moms’ group at Robin Riley’s home. Robin continued to host this group of moms over the years even though she’d lost her son 25+ years earlier. Her gentle spirit and sweet smile let the rest of us moms experiencing more recent loss know that it would be OK. We’d even be able to smile again! On this particular day, she hosted Bob Willis, art sculptor and grief expert. He sculpted his healing heart out of clay while sharing about grief; what it feels like, what to expect, how to mourn. I was mesmerized and believe this was the start of my healing and perhaps the first seed planted toward our Lauren Johnson Lose Someone Help Someone Memorial Fund (L1H1).
Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted; He binds up their wounds.
Within the next year, I experienced the loss of one of my very best friends and Addie’s childhood best friend’s mom, Laura Jeffery, to colon cancer, followed by the loss of my birth mom (recently reacquainted fulfilling her dying wish), followed by a favorite uncle, then Lauren’s college best friend, and a birth cousin (whom I had not met, but was getting reacquainted with his family). With each loss, although I didn’t know some of them personally, my heart ached for their family and friends, knowing the deep pain of such significant loss. Perhaps some of that pain was my own, deferred. And, then, my grief counselor informed me that she too had been diagnosed with cancer but wanted to continue our visits and scheduled the next counseling session. I got a call the day before my next session and she’d passed away over the weekend!
I lost my brother when I was 25 (he was 32) and we just buried our feelings along with him. He died during the AIDS epidemic and it simply wasn’t something we talked about at that time. Although I talked about him to Lauren (she was just a baby when he died) and we sent balloons to Uncle Larry whenever we could, other than a short call with my mom and a few tears each year on the anniversary, we rarely said his name as a family. It was too hard, I guess. I remembered year two being the hardest one as the shock had worn off and the reality of him being gone forever set in. Because of this experience 20+ years earlier, I knew my daughter, Addie, was hurting. She was only 13 when she lost her big sister and hero, Lauren. But she was trying to be strong for me and didn’t want her friends to see her pain. She had not been willing/interested in going to a counselor and I had not pushed for it.
Sibling grief is often unrecognized and misunderstood. I wanted something different for Addie. Because Bob Willis’s healing hearts session had been so amazing, several of the moms got together and scheduled him for a hands-on session with our teen kids. A sibling’s loss is significant but they are trying hard to be strong for their parents. A handful of our kids sat around a kitchen table and made their own hearts while Bob gently spoke to them about grief, asked them to say their sibling’s name out loud, asked what they loved about their sibling. When they were finished they had an opportunity to describe their heart. My daughter shared that she used a pencil to make a hole all the way through the clay heart because it reminded her of the hole in Lauren’s heart that was part of her heart condition and was also representative of the hole it left in her own heart since she’s been gone. While difficult for us moms to watch and hear, it was good to finally see our kids opening up about their sibling and the loss they’d experienced.
Healing Hearts Video Series – Learning to Mourn
Because Bob is so good and had helped me so much, I wanted to share his expertise with everyone I knew that had experienced loss. We found a couple of local sponsors, worked with Bob, brought in a local videographer, Bill Crouch of BC Pro, and began a series of workshops with the intent of making a video we could share with others. We held two adult workshops and two teen hands-on workshops including teens and young adults that had lost a parent or sibling, resulting in two different videos we could share. We received such positive feedback including comments that the 30 minutes with Bob had been more effective than a full series of grief support group sessions. To find a positive way to help others that had experienced the same pain of loss was truly rewarding, helped provide a sense of purpose, and began filling some of the gaping holes in our own hearts. You can find these videos on our resources page.
While we did other things to honor Lauren’s memory and fill the holes in our hearts, including fostering two sweet girls and serving on the board of R is for Thursday (a foster alumni network that provides emergency grants for college students that have aged out of the foster program), we felt nudged in the direction of creating our own non-profit and in July 2017, the Lauren Johnson Lose Someone Help Someone Memorial Fund (L1H1) became a reality and in July 2018, it was designated as an official 501(c)(3) non-profit.
Since that time, we’ve distributed numerous Healing Hearts DVDs, sponsored several private sessions with Bob Willis for families that have experienced loss, continue to participate in and support the evolving MOMS (Mothers Overcoming Mourning with Support) group, now led by Grace Whitnah and Susan Warnock. We’ve met so many special families that have become friends as we are walking this grief journey together. L1H1 is for all of us as we realize the importance of healing that comes from honoring the memory of our loved ones by saying their names, supporting each other and helping others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Celebrate Your Siblings 5K - Honoring the Memory of our Loved Ones
National Sibling Day is April 10. The first National Sibling Day we remember was just two days after Lauren’s funeral and was incredibly difficult for Addie watching all of her friends post pictures on social media of their siblings. Upon researching it, we discovered that the day was founded in 1995 by New Yorker, Claudia Evart to honor and celebrate siblings after losing her two siblings tragically early in life in separate accidents. That gave us a different perspective on the day and now we can recognize it and honor the memory of our siblings along with all of those still alive. In anticipation of the fifth anniversary of Lauren’s loss and the 2nd anniversary of Craig McAuliff (August 16, 1985-April 7, 2017), his sister (my birth cousin) Stephanie Heffington, and I began to organize the inaugural Celebrate Your Sibling 5K. It was something to look forward to during a difficult time of year. With the help of so many we held the first run on Sunday afternoon, April 14, 2019, along the OKC River. We gathered with a number of other families who have also experienced sibling loss. Siblings wore blue shirts while other family members and supporters wore grey shirts. It was a beautiful day and a special time for families to honor the memory of their loved ones, say their names and recognize that they aren’t alone in this grief journey. Please visit our Events page for more information on the Celebrate Your Sibling 5K.
Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Fostering New Memories – Healing through Helping Others
We planned the 2nd Celebrate Your Sibling 5K for April 18, 2020, opening it up to the running community, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, have had to move it to a virtual run. This year, proceeds were to benefit a new initiative called Fostering New Memories. The feedback has been positive and the support we’ve received has encouraged us to move forward with this effort. We will be sending a special foster family on a trip this summer. For more information, please visit our Fostering New Memories page.
Isaiah 61:3 “and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”
While the run gives us something positive to focus on and pour our energy into during this difficult time of year and we are disappointed that it had to be cancelled, it has been an opportunity to slow down, hit the reset button and reassess what’s most important. As my friend Bob Willis wrote: “When death, illness, or a tragic event destroys our plans and dreams . . . we must decide to “re-dream”. It may be impossible for our plans to continue.”
Just this morning, my birth cousin, Stephanie, sent a picture of two beautiful trees with the following note:
“It reminded me of when you said this time of year reminds you of Lauren because of all the redbuds! A year after we bought this house, I planted my favorite type of tree, corkscrew willow! I call it my “Craig” tree! The first storm after I planted it, all the trees in the neighborhood lost huge branches, I just knew my Craig tree was going to be destroyed, snapped in two! The storm was horrible, ‘tornadic’ like! There and behold, both of my beautiful trees stood tall and grounded, not a single branch touched! I couldn’t believe it! I’m not sure I can ever sell this house now! Cheers to Lauren and Craig! The strong, the beautiful, the everlasting!
Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Although it’s been six years for Lauren and 27 for my brother, Larry, and it does get better with time, they will always be remembered, cherished and in our hearts forever. We will move forward in their honor and make the most of what we have; to laugh again and continue to ‘re-dream’!
Left: Stephanie Heffington and Craig McAuliff at their last run together.
Right: The strong, beautiful and everlasting Lauren and Craig trees!