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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Time Machine Moments

In my job as a case manager for children and adolescents with mental health issues, there are times when I need to go to Crisis Intervention with the kids and their families.  In our county Crisis Intervention is located inside the emergency room of the Good Samaritan Hospital.  This also happens to be the hospital emergency room that Scott was taken to when he had his fatal heart attack and where I first saw him after his death.  No matter how many times I go there with the families that I work with and walk past the trauma room where he died, it instantly has the power to take me back in time to the early morning he died and walking into that room and the shell-shocked feeling that overwhelmed me.  Today was one of those days.  

As I reflected on this in a conversation with my mom this afternoon, we talked about a little boy in our church with some serious medical disabilities who requires a suction machine to assist him in keeping his airways clear.  Our family is quite familiar with this machine and the sound as my brother required one regularly for the twelve years between his industrial accident and his death.  The sound of the suction machine switching on in church instantly brings thoughts of Jason to our minds.  It is bittersweet - a reminder he is no longer with us, but also a reminder of him.  Every time I hear the noise I am grateful that the family sees this as a normal sound and not something for which they need to take him out of the service to take care of.  It may seem disruptive to others, but it is a comforting sound to us.  I know that I will never hear this sound without thinking of Jason, just as I will never go into the emergency room at the Good Samaritan Hospital without thinking of Scott.


No matter where I am in my grief journey for my brother, Jason, or for Scott, there are always going to be time machine moments — things that instantly transport me back in time to a specific moment with Jason or Scott.  These are powerful moments — not always bad memories and not always good memories — simply moments that remind me of those that I love that are no longer here.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Bittersweet

As I sit and think back over this past weekend, one word comes to mind - bittersweet.  

I think I feel that way every time we make the 4 1/2 - 5 hour trip to get together with the extended Bradley/Nottingham family.  I started joining Scott way on this trips way back in 1997 when we first started dating.  Those trips together continued, often multiple times a year, for the next fifteen years, until Scott’s death.  Due to the busyness of life, we did miss a year here and there, but tried to get there at least once a year.  

Then Jaelyn and I continued making those trips in the four years since Scott’s death.  Each time is bittersweet.  I love seeing Scott’s family, who became my family when we married, but have been so special to us and loved on us so much in the years since Scott’s death.  

I see glimpses of Scott and his personality in his cousins and other family.  This is bitter, in that it highlights that he is no longer here  —  and sweet in that it reminds us of who he was.  I found myself smiling often, with tears in my eyes, at the sound of a similar laugh, the similar humor of one of his cousins, stories being told, and the thought of how much he would have enjoyed the little kids.  He is never forgotten.


If Scott had been at this get together, there would have been at least one thing, probably two things that he would have made sure happened.  There would have been at least one table of Five Hundred organized - maybe more, and at least one game of tennis - probably more.  He always loved the big family get togethers where he could see everyone at one time and he loved his family.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Our" girls

Friday evening I had the blessing of spending some time with two of "our" girls from Milton Hershey School.  For those that may not know, Scott and I were houseparents at Milton Hershey School for a little over four years.  We spent 1 1/2 of those years with elementary school girls and then moved with them to middle school for another three years.  There were six or seven girls that we had the entire four years (the first six months we moved from home to home covering for other houseparents on their days off).  We left Milton Hershey School when Jaelyn was 5 1/2 years old.  

There are a few girls that really hold a special spot in my heart and held a special spot in Scott’s heart as well.  Aaliyah and Keirstin (KeKe) are two of those girls.  The last time that I had the opportunity to see them - and KeKe’s sister, Angel (who also holds a special spot in our hearts) - was at Scott’s viewing.  I was very blessed and touched by the effort that they, their families, and their houseparents made to get them to Scott’s viewing, to be able to say their goodbyes.  So it was almost four years since I saw them last and with very little opportunity to talk at that time.  As you can imagine, there was a lot to catch up on.  


We spent about five hours catching up and reminiscing.  Aaliyah and KeKe were with us from the start of 4th grade when they first came to Milton Hershey School through almost the end of 7th grade, when we left MHS.  I am beyond proud of these girls!  They have huge goals for themselves and are well on their way to achieving those goals.  I remember thinking often throughout our time on Friday evening, “I wish I could tell Scott about this.”  I know without a shadow of a doubt that Scott would be so proud of them as well.  He would have enjoyed the conversation and their sense of humor.  They have each had their challenges in life, but they are positive, motivated, and hard working young ladies.  I am looking forward to keeping in contact and seeing how far these young ladies go in life!  Love you girls!


Aaliyah playing with Jaelyn in June 2008.


KeKe playing with Jaelyn in February 2009.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Honoring Fathers






Father’s Day has become a bittersweet day in our household since Scott’s death.  

While I have always loved and appreciated my dad for the father he has been to me, since Scott’s death I have come to treasure that relationship even more.  When I look at Jaelyn and see what she lost when Scott died, I do not take for granted the love my dad has for me, the time he spends with me, and how he still takes care of me.  

Jaelyn lost an incredible father who loved her dearly, spent lots of time with her, and took great care of her (and made sure that she would continue to be taken care of if anything happened to him).  He would be so proud of the wonderful young lady that she is.  

Yet, Jaelyn was not only blessed with a wonderful father (although her time with him was short), she has been blessed with a few wonderful men in her life, who have really invested in her life, love her dearly, spend time with her, and take great care of her.  It would not be Father’s Day without expressing my thankfulness for her Grandpa and her Uncle Fernando.  You both make sure that she knows that she is important to you and that you love her.  You give her your undivided time and attention.  You go out of your way to do special things with and for her. You help guide her to become the best person that she can be. You cheer her on in her sports and various activities.   And you make sure that she is taken care of.   

And in turn, Jaelyn invites you to be a part of her life.  She looks forward to spending time with you, invites you to share in special things in her life, and honors you with thoughtful little gifts.  

Your relationships with Jaelyn bring tears to my eyes and honor the father that Scott was and would have continued to be to her.  I cannot thank God enough for the blessing that you are not only to Jaelyn but to me as well.



  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Presenting the third annual Scott Bradley Scholarship Award

Today I had the honor and blessing of presenting the third annual Scott Bradley Scholarship Award at our church for Youth Sunday for a graduating senior showing great faith and adventure in their walk with God.  As always, God was working ahead of time.  This year, due to one of Scott’s investments coming to fruition, I was able to contribute double financially what I have been able to contribute the first two years.  Normally I would not share the financial side of this, but it is a vital part of understanding God working in all of this.  I made this decision a couple of weeks ago prior to the selection process (which is completely done by the youth and youth leaders) for the winner.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived at church this morning and found out that this year there was a tie for the winner!  Yet, why should I be surprised?   God provided financially for the tie ahead of time (in fact, four years ago — as this investment was initiated by Scott a couple of months before his death).  My congratulations and thanks for following God and stepping out in faith go to this year’s winners — Nora Long and Nate  Lyons!!!

Below is what I had the honor of sharing with this year’s graduating seniors and the rest of the youth and church body.




It has now been almost four years since Scott’s death and it has been a journey of faith as much as a journey of grief.  I could talk about the challenges and the pain but what I really want to talk about is the growth that comes from challenging circumstances and being stretched beyond my own capabilities.  It was easy to trust in God when everything was going well, but after Scott’s death, when every step felt like I was about to take a step off of a cliff, it was difficult to keep taking that step forward.  Only with God’s strength was I able to keep moving forward.  That strength came from spending time in Scripture and surrounding myself with people who allowed me to share my thoughts and feelings and gently kept me pointed toward God.  With graduation comes a big new chapter in your lives.  There are lots of unknowns and no guarantees.  I challenge you to look at this as a journey of faith — continue to seek God in Scripture and surround yourselves with people who will listen and gently keep you pointed toward God, no matter the circumstances.  And I promise, you will find God’s strength and hope to walk through any challenge life will throw at you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gratitude from Grief

Earlier this week I read the transcript of the commencement address that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO, gave at the University of California, Berkeley.  For those of you who may not be familiar with her story, a little over a year ago, she lost her husband unexpectedly and without warning to a cardiac arrhythmia.  In her commencement address she shared about her grief journey and the lessons that she learned.  A lot of what she shared has resonated with me all week.  A few quotes stood out above the rest.  

“Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways.  I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss.  But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.  I learned that in the face of the void - or in the face of any challenge - you can choose joy and meaning.”  

Definitely Scott’s death has changed me in profound ways as well and given me an understanding of the brutality of loss.  I’m not sure if Sheryl is a believer, but when I read this statement James 1:2-4 immediately came to mind:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. “  Clearly joy is a choice.  I do not believe that it means the same thing as happy.  I certainly cannot and would not ever say that I was happy in my grief, but I did and do find joy in seeing the ways that God has taken care of us.   

“It is the hard days — the times that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are.  You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”

Wow!  I remember stating in a post a while ago that I would not allow myself to be defined by Scott’s death.  I really like what she says about being defined by how you survive.  I think that the things that I have learned on this journey, about life, grief, and myself, most certainly define me.  I am the person that I am today because of how Scott’s death has shaped me.  I believe that I am a more confident person in a lot of ways.  I am more content and fulfilled in the moment, rather than looking to the future for fulfillment.  I have a greater gratitude for all the blessings in life and in each day. 

As Sheryl said, “It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude — gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children.”

It would be very easy to be jealous of those around me who have “complete” families.  But I will never forget the very wise words that my cousin’s husband shared, “we need to live OUR story. God has a story for them and a story for us and we can’t live theirs. We need to live ours.”  It was said in a very different circumstance from mine, but that doesn’t make it any less wise.  My cousin first shared his words in her blog and in church a couple of months ago, but it has stuck in my head and heart ever since.  I remind myself of this every time I find myself feeling jealous or sorry for myself.  God has blessed me in so many ways and it is easy to lose sight of that when all I’m looking at is what I don’t have.




For those who might be interested in reading the entire transcript of Sheryl Sandberg’s Commencement Address, here is the link:  Sheryl Sandberg Transcript

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tulips = Hope

Tulips blooming are the epitome of spring and new life coming after a cold, hard winter.  This morning I have been thinking about the parallel I see to my grief journey.  I have come a long way in the last 3 1/2 years and I’m seeing the tulips blooming, with a shift in perspective from day-to-day to looking toward to and dreaming of the future.  And just as the snow today is a sudden, shocking plunge back into winter - even if only for a day or two — so it happens for me.  

Most days are bright and have the promise of tulips blooming and new life.  But every so often, just like this unexpected snow, something will happen that plunges me back into the cold, hard grief - even if for a short time.  Many people dream of their loved ones after their passing.  That has been a fairly rare occurrence for me, and when it happens is almost always bizarre and not true to life.  However, the last two nights I have dreamed of Scott, which was warm and comforting — until I woke up and realize that it was simply a dream, despite the fact that I could still feel his hand on my face.  The aching in those moments was literally a physical pain in the chest.


When I went outside this morning to check on my tulips in the midst of this snowstorm, expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised to see my tulips are sheltered by the roof overhang and are still standing proudly, showing off their colors, with just a dusting of snow on their tips and leaves.  So it is for me.  I am sheltered by God’s love and strength and He helps me to still be able to see the bright promise of new life and dreams for the future.  These difficult moments are the dusting of snow on the tips and leaves of the tulips.  It does not change the healing that God has brought about in my heart, if fact it makes it appear even more beautiful as does the snow on the tulips.  It also is a clear picture that two things that appear as if they cannot co-exist, definitely can co-exist — and with great strength where things appear fragile.  It is possible to move forward and still continue to miss Scott and grieve his loss.  Ironically, without the cold and snow, my tulips would already be done blooming.  As well, I would not be who I am and be where I am right now without loving and grieving Scott.  And that is because God makes beautiful things out of the ugly, ordinary, and difficult things, and gives great strength to the weak and fragile.