Permission to Grieve

A little brother visits an older brother's grave...

A little brother visits an older brother’s grave…

Some friends I care about deeply have recently experienced tremendous loss and are now navigating the “grief journey.” It is a journey I know well and is not an easy trip or a short one. My family and I have learned some things about grief that we never knew before losing our 12-year-old son, Zack.

Grief – at least in our society – is completely misunderstood.

One out of one people will die in their lifetime, yet, the vast majority of human beings do not want to discuss it or even think about their own death or someone they love. Inevitably, we will all experience the loss of someone we love – yet for most of us – growing up, no one teaches us about that experience and what to expect. Then, when we do experience loss, we are faced with an unfamiliar, unexpected and difficult emotion…Grief.

Grief, like death, is hard for people to discuss and even harder to understand. As a result, society does not give us permission to grieve – society just wants us to return to normal just as we are discovering life will never “get back to normal.” We find ourselves settling in to some kind of “new normal” and that “new normal” may continue to change for a long time. Work doesn’t give us permission to grieve. Work is demanding and performance requires focus and attention – neither which can be found for long periods when we grieve. Daily life doesn’t give us permission to grieve. Dinner must still be prepared. Laundry must be done. Hair must be combed and teeth must be brushed. Even friends and family don’t give us permission to grieve. Sure they support us and encourage us – but some may have expectations that we need to “snap out of it” or get back to our old “self” or “move on” and those expectations can be hurtful and make us feel guilty as we struggle through grief.

If we give ourselves permission to grieve, we can find the other areas of our lives will give us permission to grieve also.

 The only cure for grief is to grieve. – Earl Grollman

We may try to separate grief from the rest of our life or try to fight it somehow but that just makes grief mad. We may try to hide from grief by pouring into our work or staying busy with life and we may put on an outward appearance of being “just fine” and try to ignore grief.

But, grief refuses to be ignored and pain demands to be felt. And, like it or not, grief becomes a new constant companion after a loss. (And if we don’t acknowledge grief during the day, grief will surely come to visit at night.)

Grief is personal: It is as individual as a fingerprint. The way you grieve will be different from the way anyone else grieves. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Don’t be sorry that others might be uncomfortable with your grief. Even among families who grieve together, they still have to grieve individually. This individual grief can cause strain and even confusion between family members because we may not understand the way they are grieving. No one can do any one else’s grieving. Your grief is your grief. (Don’t hide grief from your children. Our children need to see us grieve and heal so they know it is okay to grieve.) Find a way to express your grief during the season of heavy grief. Talk about it with someone you trust. Write about it. Join a support group. See a counselor. Help others. Draw comfort from your faith. Pray. (For me, it is my faith, expressing myself through writing and helping others that helps me most.)

Grief is powerful: Grief has the power to give us sorrow, uncontrollable tears and unbearable pain one moment and then swing over to anger, guilt, fear and anxiety in the next. (And yes – grief can make us feel like we are going crazy.) The powerful impact of each of those emotions can knock us down and shake us to the core. We cannot ignore these emotions because if we try, they will just seep out all over the place and make grieving all the more difficult. We must face these emotions head-on and fully experience each one. I remember in the days after our son died, my husband and I looked at each other and asked if we would ever be “happy” again.

Grief is unpredictable: There are triggers for grief everywhere. We expect it with holidays and special occasions – it is the ones we don’t expect that take our breath. A picture. A song. A smell. A memory. Unloading the dishwasher. Folding laundry. Walking in the office. Hearing a joke. Exercising. And most of the time the triggers are not what we expect and it certainly is not when we expect it. Not too long ago, I was a mess in the grocery store (the cereal aisle) as a boy begged his mom for a specific cereal. Memories of Zack asking me for his favorite cereal came crashing down (with the tears).

Grief is a process: There is no timeline for grief. Sure, some people may think that you should be done grieving by now but I don’t even know what that means. It is not as simple as saying “I’m done grieving now.” Grief is not a virus that runs through your system and is done. It is not a disease that can be treated with antibiotics. Grief is a process that takes time – longer than people expect. Here I am, 3+ years later and I still grieve for my 12-year-old son, Zack. I still grieve because I still love. My grief is not like it was in the beginning, but grief is still my companion. And just because you have a good day doesn’t mean you are done grieving. It may take weeks, months, years, or a lifetime. But, grieving does not mean we don’t go on living. We continue to go to work or school, we get our children up and ready for the day, we cook dinner, we shop for groceries and we can still do all of those things well. We just have to understand that our lives may look different from the inside out because priorities change during grief. The way we see life changes during grief. The way we see each moment changes during grief. Some things, that used to seem so important, won’t even matter anymore. Most importantly, the way we see ourselves changes during grief. Grief forces us to not only acknowledge the death of someone we love, but it forces us to face our mortality. Grief may cause us to look closely at our faith, ask lots of questions of God and question our own purpose in life. (At least it did for me.)

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~ Kenju Miyazawa

Grief gives us a path: Believe it or not, grief actually helps us. Grief is a natural, healthy process that helps us to recover from terrible emotional wounds. Grieving is a necessary part of God’s path to healing. Grief may change us, but that doesn’t mean it changes us in a bad way. Grief has changed me. My relationship with God is stronger now than ever in my life. I don’t worry about the “little” things like I used to. I cherish each moment with the people I love. I care more about others and less about myself. I miss Zack and will miss him every day until I am reunited with him in heaven. That will never change. Part of our path to healing has included our family finding ways to honor and remember Zack. Doing this, helps us to know that his memory will live on and lets the world know he is never forgotten. Find a special way to honor your loved one. It doesn’t have to be something big or elaborate. It can be whatever is meaningful to you. Whatever you do, don’t stop talking about your loved one. Even if it makes others uncomfortable – who cares? They may be gone, but our relationship with them has not ended. In our house, we speak about Zack all the time. Sometimes speaking about him may cause my voice to crack and sometimes it brings tears, but that’s ok too. Mostly, we laugh and talk about things he would like or not like and what he would think about something we are doing. We celebrate his birthday every year and his little brother always gets a gift from Zack at Christmas and birthdays. When someone we love dies, they remain in our hearts and they should remain a part of our lives however you decide that should look.

 “Grief is itself a medicine.” ~ Will Cowper (English hymn writer)

Grieving is not easy.

Giving yourself permission to grieve and heal from the hurt of loss takes great courage. Be gentle with yourself during the season of heavy grief.

I have listed some resources below that may be helpful to anyone who is grieving. If you know someone who is grieving, be sure to love on them.

Be blessed as you live and grieve A Moment at a Time.

For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. ~ Psalm 30:5

Zack Mayo September 17, 1998 - May 28, 2011 Cause of death - liver cancer

Zack Mayo September 17, 1998 – May 28, 2011
Cause of death – liver cancer

Letter to Zack on his 16th birthday

zack today

Dear Zack,

Today is your birthday. Your sixteenth birthday. And I wonder…

I wonder how tall you would be now. I wonder how your voice would sound.  I see your friends and how much they have changed. And I wonder…I wonder if you are still twelve in heaven. I wonder what heaven is like. I wonder what you are doing right this minute.

I remember rocking you in the middle of that first night sixteen years ago. Just you and me and the dark. Those precious early moments…never knowing that twelve years, eight months and eleven days later, you would be gone. If I had known, would I have lived the moments of life differently?

I miss you Zack.

I miss your smile.

I miss your hugs.

I miss your messy room.

I miss your humor.

I miss your voice.

I miss you waking up before anyone else. – I’m convinced now that you somehow knew you needed to get all your living done instead of sleeping.

I miss your blue eyes.

I miss having to tell you to stop pulling your brother’s ear.

I miss seeing you and Daddy wrestling in the floor with Nick.

I miss your dirt bike races and your dirty face and clothes.

I miss tucking you in.

I miss everything about you.

I miss you.

I am quite certain I always will. Missing you has not been erased by the passing of time. But, I know – God sees what we cannot see.

We just passed the half-way mark with this pregnancy. This precious new life growing inside of me has stirred up many emotions for me.

Nick will make a great big brother because he learned from the best. He talks to the baby a lot – remember how you used to tell him to be quiet? He still hasn’t learned how. J

He says this baby will be his best friend just like Bubby.

This baby – this blessing – will know all there is to know about an oldest brother.

Today is your sixteenth birthday.

To celebrate, we are going to Granddaddy’s restaurant to have dinner with family. We will sing happy birthday to you. Nick will blow out your candles and we will eat your favorite cake. Then, Nick is going to open the sealed envelope and announce if we are having a boy or a girl!

We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate you.

We love and miss you with every breath.

Happy 16th birthday Zack Attack!

Click here to see Zack’s last birthday – celebrated at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital…

zack bday 1

Zack’s first birthday – celebrated on Grandma Bonnie Mae’s front porch…

zack age 3 (3)

Zack’s 3rd birthday – celebrated at Granddaddy and Ebie’s house.

zack 11th bday

Zack’s 11th birthday – his last healthy birthday – celebrated with 11 boys sleeping over at our house.


Life After Death

cropped-zack54.jpgOur 12 year old son, Zack, moved in with Jesus just over three short years ago.

And while he is physically gone, he is always with me.

The pain of losing him is not as raw as it once was, but it is painful just the same.

When we found out I was pregnant, we felt this was truly a gift from God.

Baby Mayo

Baby Mayo

And then someone asked me if I was worried if this baby would get cancer too.

And someone made a comment about my age.

And someone said something about Zack being reincarnated in this baby.

Some people always want to take the wind out of your sail.

And there is always someone waiting to be negative because negative people need drama like oxygen.  But if we just ignore them, it takes their breath away. The less we respond to negative people the more peaceful our lives will become.  (and then there is always the “defriend”option – J)

This life…this life we have learned to live without our Zack is harder some days than others. This new life, this miracle, this gift, growing inside me will never take his place.  But this new life has breathed a new joy into our family.

Each time I feel a kick, I smile.

This video of Nick finding out about the baby will surely make you smile too.

God’s people have only one way to face life – confidently.  So, we will continue to live this life after death with confidence – a moment at a time.  I pray you will too.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.  ~Lamentations 3:22-24

PS – September Marks National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – please support childhood cancer research by making sure you KNOW which organizations truly fund the research and only supporting those organizations.

big brother Nick

Bears on the Mountain

20140319_180234-1My friend is going through a hard time right now.

A life or death kind of hard time.

And as much as I want to tell her everything’s going to be okay –

I can’t.

Because you know what? It might not be okay.

At least not the kind of okay we want it to be….

Or the kind of okay we hope it will be.

God never promised everything would be okay. But, HE did promise we would never have to go through it alone.


Nick and I are reading a story about an 8 year old boy, Jonathan, who has to go over a mountain alone.

His mother tells him it will be okay because there are no bears on Hemlock Mountain. But, she was wrong.

There are bears on Hemlock Mountain.

At one point in the story, Jonathan feels very alone on that mountain.

Don’t panic. I’m with you.There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. – Isaiah 41:10

Part of Nick’s “dig deeper” assignments in his study guide for this book include looking up scripture and answering questions about it…and I love to hear his child-like faith responses.

God’s word assures us we are never alone – even when we find ourselves facing bears on the mountain.

And even when things are not the way we want them to be and all is not “okay”…we can trust His way is perfect.

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. – Psalm 18:30

Be a blessing, trust HIS perfect plan and live a moment at a time…


Brothers posing on a mountain hike…Mommy in the background up the trail.


A Moment She Remembered

Earlier this month, a friend of Zack’s assignment for her 9th grade English class was to choose a moment in time that she remembered in detail and write about it. She chose to write about Zack. She was kind enough to share her writing with us.

We are honored that she selected him as her moment and thankful to know his friends still remember.

I thank my God every time I remember you. ~Philippians 1:3

May you all be blessed by our friend, Abbey Crisp, today.

Abbey Crisp
February 3rd
Honors English

At the end of my 5th grade school year something happened to someone I cared about and it changed me. I met my friend, Zack Mayo in Kindergarten and we were good friends throughout elementary school. We both attended Parsley Elementary and had most of the same teachers. We became pretty good friends and hung out together sometimes! I even had a crush on him in 2nd grade. He was in a horrible accident and from then on, his life was different.

I remember exactly where I was when I found out that he was hurt. I was in the car at an intersection in Crosswinds taking my sister’s friend home. I remember my mom stopped the car on the side of the road and we prayed for him. I was really scared for him. I hadn’t talked to him in a while because I had just moved schools the year before and I didn’t know what to think about the whole thing! The thoughts that were running through my mind were scary and sad. I had never known anyone my age that had been hurt really badly before and things just seemed to get worse and worse. Zack’s mom was updating everyone on Facebook and I just remember looking for her updates so often. Zack almost died several times. It felt like we prayed for him all of the time. We were all so worried about him. He was taken to Chapel Hill where they found out that he had liver cancer and the scooter accident had punctured his tumor.

He fought the terrible disease for such a long time. He was so strong and brave and taught me so much about finding the best in even the worst things and about having hope and faith. His family was with him every minute and never gave up on him. His younger brother, Nick, loved him so much and looked up to him for so many things. I learned to appreciate life, my family, my friends and just everyday things. I know that Zack is in heaven and that I will see him again one day. I still think about him often when I hear certain songs like “I Can Only Imagine” or when I remember back to elementary school. The day I heard about his accident was a day that I won’t ever forget. It seems etched in my brain along with great memories of him.

Thank you Abbey for allowing me to publish this on my blog. You are a blessing!

Abbey and her little sister.

Abbey and her little sister.

zack today

Wise Old Oak Trees

20140122_14144220140122_142217Landmarks, museums and other interesting sites are usually on our list when we travel in our motorhome to supplement our learning on the road. This trip has been different.
Because we came to attend the RV Supershow and purchase a new motorhome, we have spent a lot of time at our dealer’s campground here in Florida.

During the winter, most Florida campgrounds are the destination of “snowbirds”- a term used to describe retired people who flee the snow for warmer weather. They travel here from all over the coldest parts of the U.S. and Canada.20140117_161852

Someone messaged me and asked “how can you stand being around all those old people (at our campground)?”

The oldest trees often bear the sweetest fruit – German Proverb

We have met many incredible “old” people in the last couple of weeks here in Florida.

Yesterday, we enjoyed coffee with a sweet elderly couple (from Missouri but live full-time in their motorhome). Mr. Noel is recuperating from knee surgery. He explained how his knee troubles all began with a downed helicopter in Vietnam. Nick listened intently and asked questions about the war, the rescue and more about his knee and broken back. Mr. Noel also shared stories of his dad’s participation in World War II and his survival of the Normandy invasion.

For a little boy who loves to play battle with friends at home and who is studying World War II, this was an incredible learning experience. This kind of learning is better than any book we will read, better than any research on the internet – this learning is the gift of incredible living history.

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”—Deuteronomy 32:7


Several days ago, another man, Mr. Walt (from Colorado – wintering here), saw Nick eating a lot of fruit one morning, and told him it was good to eat so much fruit. “You will grow up to look like Charles Atlas” he said. The look on Nick’s face revealed he had no idea who Charles Atlas was so Mr. Walt encouraged him to find out about him. Nick researched Charles Atlas on the internet and sought him out to share what he had discovered.

And just in case you don’t know who Charles Atlas is… As a youth, he weighed only 97 pound and a bully kicked sand into his face at a beach. Charles was humiliated which lead to him doing numerous exercise routines and becoming obsessed with strength. According to several stories, while at the zoo, watching a lion stretch, he thought to himself “Does this old gentleman have any barbells, any exercisers?…And it came over me….He’s been pitting one muscle against another!” He concluded that lions and tigers became strong by pitting muscle against muscle. It was this idea that lead to his dynamic tension program that made him so successful and earned him the nickname of “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man”

Nick has given lots of sweet hugs to grandmas and grandpas and watched them dance together in the clubhouse. He has entertained with his keyboard and exchanged stories about the Titanic (his obsession for over a year now). He is currently working on a math problem involving our motorhome’s length and the Titanic. (Mr. Joe asked him last night how many 45 ft motorhomes would fit lined up straight on the Titanic.) I made him go to bed before he completed his living word problem but I guarantee Nick will find the answer this morning so he can share the answer with Mr. Joe.

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.~Proverbs 20:29

Learning, sharing, exchanging…

Yes – that is how we can “stand” it – that is how we can accept the wonderful gift – the privilege – of spending time among the old old oak trees…

We are making all the moments count… A Moment at a Time.

Be a blessing to someone today!20140117_16190920140118_16072720140122_14063620140117_16200820140112_155558 (1)

Are you Ready for the new year?

A new year is upon us.

We hear much about the plans, goals and resolutions people are making for their lives.

Eat less. Exercise more. Drink less. Spend more “quality” time with family. Achieve more at work. Make more money. The list goes on and on…

We hear nothing about people planning to die.

People don’t talk about death in our culture. It is a morbid topic and people avoid it. People don’t like to think about it so don’t until they have to plan a funeral for someone they love.

But, shocking statistics reveal that one out of one people will die.

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” ~ James 4:14b

That includes you and me.

Over 150,000 people in this world will have no tomorrow. They will die today. And most will have no warning – no diagnosis of terminal illness. Most will die suddenly.

Will they be ready? Where will they spend eternity?

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:10

If we want to make the most of life, we have to face the fact that it will end.

“Only those who are prepared to die are really prepared to live.” ~ Dr. L. Nelson Bell

Am I ready? Are you?

What are we doing today to prepare for eternity?

Will we be prepared to meet the Master at any moment and answer for all we have done for HIM? Or will our answers be filled with all we have done for ourselves?

Every day of our life, we are just a breath away from eternity.

How can I be a difference-maker?

How can I impact even one?

What can I do – what can you do – to be salt, and light, and to be a difference-maker?

How often do we fail to make a difference because we don’t even try?

We have a choice every day to be a difference.

How will we make a difference for HIS kingdom this year?

A new year lies in front of us. Are you READY?

God help us to live now in the light of a REAL tomorrow.

Happy New Year – may you all be blessed and live for HIM a moment at a time…


Nick reads about the Titanic with a resident at Lake Shore Commons Senior Living Center.

Nick reads about the Titanic with a resident at Lake Shore Commons Senior Living Center.