Walking the Circle of Grief

photo-1484973768669-7fb6b5451095I have walked the circle of grief around many friends.

It’s not a journey I’d ever wish for them or myself, yet I was honored every time I have walked it.

Walking the circle is being close by, accessible, while giving space to my friends. Being available but not hovering.

Walking the circle is being close enough to feel the scorching heat of the pain. It is unimaginable. It is sharing a burden. It is seeing friends gasp for air. It’s inviting moments of laughter, knowing tears will often be close behind.

Walking the circle is doing difficult stuff. Making phone calls, picking up funeral clothes, sitting in uncomfortable positions beside a bed or chair for hours, holding hands, wiping snot, going through clothes and toys that will never be used (or used again).

Walking the circle now includes the opportunity to serve Hope House of Central Illinois. My friends founded this organization, and I do what things I can do to help them. It is a continuance of walking the circle.

You have likely walked the circle, too. You might still be walking it.

There are many of us. And now we get to come together.

We all walk the circle around parents and families who are grieving the death of a child. Hope House is on the verge of being built and welcoming those families. For more information on how to get involved, click on the campaign tab of our website.

Thank you.

A Good Place

photo-1521993067561-ce35b1ce9a91Whatever your preference and habits with faith and worship with a church family, we wanted to share a glimpse into one Hope House founder’s heart through something he recently shared at his church. Randy shared the following during a communion meditation. The habit at his church is to take communion every time the church family gets together for worship per Jesus’ instructions to share communion in remembrance of him. The weekly routine is intended to remember what Jesus has done for each of us as well as invite us to take inventory of our lives and consistently invite him to correct and encourage us. It is a reality check of sorts. And recently, Randy shared a glimpse into his own reality of grief and hope.

A few weeks ago, I went on a farm call.  It was a lovely spring day and I was thankful to get out of the office that afternoon. The farm is a pleasant place located on a hilltop. I knew well my way to this place because it was the home of my first and best friend after moving to Taylorville 32 years ago. It is a place that I’ve visited many times and I have only the fondest memories of being there. In my mind it is a happy place. But my friend moved and now I don’t go there so often. My friend’s son lives there now, and I will admit that I like him, too, and will gladly claim him as a friend. But our relationship is different and I just don’t visit as often as I probably should. While there, I looked at a few sheep and a couple dogs. Then I had a conversation.

We talked about our jobs, families, and all the interesting things going on in our lives. Then I told my young friend about a visit I had made the week prior to another place, very different place; Anderson Cemetery. I had gone to see my son. It is my son’s final resting place, and I don’t like going there.  I don’t visit often, and when I do go, I don’t stay long. I did not start that day planning to go. I have no idea why I went but I did, and for the first time, it wasn’t so awful. Maybe the sting of death is not as sharp now. I not only visited Dan’s grave but I also looked around. I saw Eddie there. He was my first neighbor in Taylorville. Eddie was a good neighbor. He used to watch my daughter, and she took her first steps in his house. Lyle is also there. He was funny and used to love repeating a story of when his mule bit me in the rear. I saw lots of names that I recognized and many whom I never knew. I saw headstones for young people, old people, and even people born in the 1700’s and Anderson Cemetery is said to be the final resting place of every last one of them.

Then I told my young friend that I had visited the grave of his daughter, and we talked about that for quite a while. Then he said something that really stuck in my head. He said that his life is in a good place now, and that he is content. Upon reflection, I feel that I, too, am in a good place now. But this good place will not be my final place. Nor is Anderson Cemetery the final resting place of our loved ones. There will be another place after my final resting place.  In John 14, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples and talks to them about his final resting place.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus came from heaven to earth to give us a glimpse of our Father and to lead us to a very special place called Heaven. Jesus has gone before us and prepared a place for each of us. Today at this communion, celebrate what Jesus has done.

Do More Than Check Out

photo-1422190441165-ec2956dc9eccI know the desire to curl up in a ball and pull the covers over my head and retreat from the world. It’s okay for a moment, but at some point, it’s time to go for a walk, reach out to a friend, spend time with people who love you. Do something. Do more than check out from the reality of the world that is so hurtful, because it is so much more than that.

The Hope of Hope House

On a beautiful Spring afternoon, Teresa and I drove to the land Hope House will be built upon one day. It is a soothing drive on a country road, leading to a winding road through the trees, then opening into the clearing. The drive itself reminds me of hope. There is a bit of uncertainty and doubt, wondering what’s coming next, but there are glimpses of beauty along the way. There’s a winding road with arching trees overhead, obscuring the view of what’s ahead yet beautiful and protective in and of themselves. Then there is a clearing.

I sighed in hope: hope of the present and hope of the future.

Teresa and I walked across the field and into the woods that will one day be the backyard of Hope House. Those who want to stay within the walls of Hope House can find peace and healing there. Those who seek some solace in nature will have easy access to it.

Spring seems to be a bit late this year,  so the green just now seems to be bursting on the scene – another reminder that hope brings growth and beauty in its own time.

We explored and found trails, a stream, oddly-shaped vines, a fallen tree, and dappled sunlight. Hope is like each of these things.

  • Hope is like the stream, cutting it’s way into the earth, a bit uncontrollable yet also sustaining and cleansing and serene.
  • Hope is like the twisted vines, contorting around trees in ways that seem impossible, evidence of persistence over time.
  • Hope is like the fallen tree, providing a place for people to rest or critters to live even when it doesn’t seem to be in the place or position we expect.
  • Hope is like dappled sunlight, piercing through the overhead trees, lighting the path ahead and making beauty with the contrast of light and darkness.

Hope is like the trails, forging the way ahead even through our uncertainty.

Please continue to pray as we journey with hope.

In the meantime, enjoy some snapshots of what God has provided for Hope House.

PicMonkey Collage
©2018 Hope House of Central Illinois

 

The Dream of Hope

IMG_1754What began as a discussion among 3 grieving couples about how great it would be to have a cabin they could share as a place to “get away” has quickly turned into so much more.  These couples knew first-hand how overwhelming is was to deal with the loss of a child, and realized the peace and solace a private retreat location could provide.  It didn’t take long for those couples to realize that what they wanted for themselves, could minister to countless couples and families in Central Illinois.  

A little over a year ago, with initial plans in place, a larger group was brought together to provide feedback as to the feasibility of this dream.  The idea was well received, and the group embarked on a mission to share the dream and spread word throughout the area.

The dream of having a cabin, set in a tranquil, rural setting, that families could use as a retreat from everyday life, was the goal.  To establish this retreat location, that would be provided to grieving families at no cost, would take a great deal of work, but as the vision is spread, the dream is quickly becoming reality.  Choosing the right building site is key to the success of such an endeavor.  Finding a site that is easily accessible, but provides the needed tranquility, was not an easy task.  Through months of careful searching and prayerful consideration, just a location came available.  

In the late fall of 2017 an official offer was placed on a beautiful 7-acre tract of land that provides not only the perfect balance of level ground for the construction of an easily accessible home, but also pristine, wooded ground that will provide for a place for calm reflection.  The offer was accepted, financing secured, and in January of 2018, the papers were signed for the official home of Hope House.  

To date, no formal fundraising efforts have taken place, but thanks to others who believe in the mission of Hope House, adequate funds have been gathered for the down payment on the land.  The next step is the formation of a committee to plan the capital campaign to raise the funds for construction and operation of Hope House.  Thanks to a generous, local grant from the Duncan-Kendrick Ministry Fund, funds are in place for the construction of the foundation of the house.  During the fundraising drive, plans for construction will be finalized and the potential to break ground in the spring of 2019 is the goal.  

The Hope House committee, volunteers, and supporters are excited to be able to provide such a significant ministry here in Christian County, and to be able to serve families throughout Central Illinois.  For more information, and to follow our progress, please visit hopehouseofcentralillinois.org.

We Have Land!

PurchasePhoto

Special thanks to all the private donors, churches, community organizations, and businesses who have sponsored Hope House of Central Illinois and made it possible for us to purchase the land where Hope House will be built! We have officially purchased seven acres of land south of Taylorville (two miles west of Lakeshore Golf Course). We especially thank the sellers who helped us find the perfect place to help grieving families for many years to come.

We look forward to continuing to make plans and break ground in God’s timing. We’ll kick off our capital campaign soon. Stay connected with us here and on Facebook. We continue to appreciate your prayers.

 

October 2017 Hope House Update

written by Michael St. Louis, Hope House of Central Illinois Board President

update1I remember walking in the winter woods as a youth. The bright shining sun reflecting off of the snow covered boughs and ground, not a breath of air moving, all created a surreal atmosphere. One could say it was a “wonderland.” Time stood still; distance and direction seemed to float away. Your progress was only traceable by looking backwards to see the footprints in the snow. There may be a straight path or maybe meandering, but you know where you have been. Or maybe you tracked you child’s growth on a door or wall in your home. Either way, you are marking progress by looking back.

Much is the same with Hope House. We have been very focused on growing and now it is time to look back to see how far we have come.

As a completely new, unestablished non-profit, I believe we have made great progress in the past 6 months.

We have:

  • presented our vision to over 400 people
  • presented to 10 different community organizations
  • collected 80% of our down payment for land
  • received support from over 100 wonderful donors
  • received committed support for 2018 from 2 organizations
  • spoken with and comforted 3 families after their loss

So what is next? That is a great question I hope to answer. There is more to the wall or door to continue to mark growth, just as there is always more forest to explore.

We are presently:

  • forming a capital committee
  • negotiating the purchase price of land
  • applying for local grants
  • scheduling presentations to more area churches and organizations
  • working toward more long-term funding for sustainability

Of all the great things Hope House has already accomplished, it has only been possible by the generosity and support of so many private individuals and businesses. The hard work of everybody involved has led to extraordinary results. We are not there yet. However, I am confident that as we continue down this road, we will exceed our goals. The many families experiencing loss will be able to find refuge with us because of your support.

Thank you all,

Blessings,

Hope House of Central Illinois

Our Miracle

by Teresa St. Louis

We tried for 20 years to have our children. Finally, at the age of 40, we had the opportunity to do IVF. With much encouragement from dear friends and financial decisions that most financial advisers wouldn’t recommend, we moved forward. We, in hope, believed and on our second attempt with IVF, we became pregnant with our twins Samuel and Selah. The pregnancy was going smoothly even though I felt sick most of the time. Then suddenly at 23 1/2 weeks, my water broke in the middle of the night. Our babies were born the next day, January 23, 2013.

It was a painful three days of life for Samuel and eight days for Selah in the NICU. It was also painful for us to see that their brief life was filled with so much agony. And the guilt I felt because I failed to carry them and protect them like a mother does was heart-wrenching.

We and many others from around the country from what I heard were praying for them, praying for a miracle. To overcome all the obstacles of a micro preemie and grow up and live a full life. But we didn’t get our miracle…

Or so we thought.

The days passed after their death, after the visitation and funeral. Life settled back into our new normal of being a mother and a father but no evidence of it except the pile of baby gifts from our church family baby shower just three days before they were born.

God began to show me that we did get our miracle. He answers our many years of prayer for children. He gave us Samuel and Selah, brief as it was. Their lives were the miracle.

I read in Beth Moore’s Living Beyond Yourself Bible study: “If only we would release God from our preconceived notions of what a miracle should be. Our eyes would be opened to so much more! All it takes to behold a miracle is seeing God do something only He can do.”

Well, only God could allow this aged womb to carry two babies for 23 1/2 weeks and still give them life for three and eight days. To touch many lives in that brief time. And fill our hearts with love like we never knew before.

Thank you, God. That’s what I call a miracle.

Your “one day” could be today.

one-dayOne day there will be no more sorrow. No more heartbreak. No more weeping.

There will be a day these are permanently gone. There are days in my life now where I am filled with joy and laughter. In those moments, my heart knows no sorrow because the joy before me overwhelms it.

There will be a day or moment after loss (whether it be the death of a child, a parent, a spouse, or even the loss when a relationship ends) in which you will find yourself smiling and have so much joy in the moment that your cheeks hurt from it, and you may even find yourself experiencing a nice deep belly laugh.

These moments are all the sweeter for the heartbreak and sorrow from which they are birthed.

Yesterday was one of those days for me. What a gift. What a treasure.

Keep looking ahead. Keep giving life and love another chance.

Because your “one day” WILL come.

The birth of a dream

The years 2013 and 2014 were life changers. We and our friends became part of this unorganized and unofficial  club no one wants to be a part of, Parents of Loss. While the dreams of life with our children had died, we were hopeful that there was purpose in our individual losses. 

Shortly after our loss, Jon and I took a trip in late July 2013 to the Smoky Mountains in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg TN area with Michael and Teresa. I was personally having trouble with being in public places.  I think social anxiety is a common thing for grieving parents. So, away we went for a little get away. It was a time of reflection, quiet contemplation, expressions of fears, anger, hurt, rejection, and a whole host of emotions. We spent time talking, eating, and playing games in the cabin. We spent time hiking and sight seeing in the great Smoky Mountains. There were moments we cried but there were also moments we smiled and even laughed again. 

That trip was an essential part of our healing process. It reminded us that although there are moments we can’t imaging living without our children, life is still worth the effort of getting out of bed each day if only to see the sunrise or help a fellow parent of loss know they aren’t alone. We were working to help each other find our lost hope and joy.


Once back in central Illinois, we continued to heal, spending time with friends and family. The memories of healing and time spent at the cabin in the Smokies kept us encouraged. 

Shortly after Christmas 2013, our little Yorkie, Phoebe, became very sick. We spent days visiting her at the vet’s office where Randy and his staff were working diligently to make sure she came out of her illness. During some of the visits, we spoke with Randy about our time in the Smokies with Michael and Teresa. That area has always been special to Randy and Gina. We discussed how nice it would be to own a cabin down there and joked about the three couples going in together to buy a place. As 2013 moved into 2014, we continued to discuss this idea whenever we would get together. Once Michael made the comment that it should not just be a vacation home though; it should mean something more, and maybe we could use it as a place to send grieving parents for a short time of healing like we had experienced.

The end of 2014 brought tragedy to Randy and Gina as they lost their twenty-four year old son Danny. He was home for the holidays and the beginning of 2015 found them taking a trip out west to handle his affairs there. While on the road one morning, they saw a rainbow which they received as a sign of hope. The idea of finding some purpose in the loss of our children, bringing something good out of these tragedies, was continuing to take root in our hearts and minds.


By the end of 2014, the birth of a new dream for each of us six parents had begun. The gestational period has been long and full of craziness but here we are boldly daring to dream. We dare to dream that although life can be difficult, there is always a reason to hope. We dream of being able to touch the lives of many other hurting families in the coming years by offering them a place of refuge during their first days of grief. We dream of finding land here in central Illinois where we can build Hope House. We dream of working with other organizations and services to provide the best resources for grieving parents. We dream……


Contact us to learn more and join us in this dream of Hope House.