“When life gives you lemons … make lemonade.”
Oh, that old chestnut.
I always liked the sentiment - I’d hear it and something would rise up in me, a bit of a middle finger to whatever the heck was dishing out lemons. It felt creative, powerful, full of ingenuity, maybe even a bit rebellious. Take that, life - you suck! How do you like those apples, wait … lemons? BAM. *sips delicious lemonade and rides off into the sunset*
I started thinking about this phrase on a drive down from the North Coast a while ago, in the midst of praying (that’s what I attempt to do in the car on long stretches … I would recommend). It felt significant and came quite out of the blue. Suddenly it started to grate on me (no zesty pun intended), and it wouldn’t really leave my mind. How does one make lemonade when your lemons are in the shape of being widowed at 29? Surely this is the lemonade-less exception to the rule?
So I prayed some more. I prayed because it made me uncomfortable - what positive things can come from the death of someone truly incredible? What positive things can come from two tiny children losing their daddy? I concluded that this was the end of this line of enquiry because it made me feel so rotten, but I didn’t stop praying because the phrase “make lemonade” wouldn’t leave my mind. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that this is how God gets my attention sometimes. I need to be nagged.
Fast forward a week and it was my daughter’s birthday. I was baking her birthday cake - a lemon drizzle (her favourite) - and the recipe required me to juice and zest a few lemons. I rolled one across the worktop to soften it, cut it in half, squeezed … and suddenly, pain. A rag nail on my finger seared in agony, acidic lemon juice pouring into the fresh cut. I carried on (stoic as I am, *ahem*). My daughter’s face, on presentation of this wonky little cake, was a picture of joy and my heart beamed.
Finally the penny dropped.
When Craig died, I got handed a truckload of lemons. The trauma of a bereavement will metaphorically and emotionally leave your “hands” pretty cut up. If you are going to make lemonade it is going to hurt. But what’s the alternative? A truckload of lemons that rot, that’s what.
Suddenly I felt I was starting to get this. This lemonade isn’t even for me. And it’s not going to be easy to make. Just as the lemons I juiced that caused me pain were really for my daughter, I started to wonder if the lemons I needed to metaphorically juice weren’t actually to make my own personal, “take that, crappy life!” branded lemonade, but rather to offer someone a quenching drink when they’ve grown tired and weary on their own journey?
There’s absolutely nothing about Craig dying that can be turned into lemonade. But I can take my attitude and my free will and say, “I’m not giving up” … from that there might just be something drinkable. I have to choose if I’m willing to do this, or if I’m not.
Grief is hard work. Some days I casually daydream about a life of hedonism, where I throw away all the daily emotional and mental rigour that I must discipline myself with so I don’t spiral into a life of sorrow, regret and misery. Sometimes it appeals to me more than my reality, when I’m stretched. But then I ask myself, “what good can come of that attitude?” other than my own temporary satisfaction, and I am back on track.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t for one second ignore the fact that God has sustained me beyond measure. To be honest, in the times when I submit myself to Him and say, “hey, I can’t actually do this!” I feel like he hands me a metaphorical electric juicer and I just have to push the button. Things are so much easier. But the butterfly must struggle itself out of its cocoon in order to strengthen its wings, so we must too struggle and wrestle with the circumstances we have been given at times in order to bring new and worthwhile fruit.
I have met so many people since Craig died who have been touched by the searing pain of loss, both in person and online. We have chatted, shared stories, offered solidarity to one another - all bonded together by this shared experience of sorrow. Some of these people have been my lifeline on my darkest days, some have inspired me to hope that I can have a positive future ahead of me (when I am at a point where I just don’t believe it), some have just listened to me vent my frustrations at how difficult this life can be. These people have offered me a refreshing glass of lemonade that no one else could give me—and the type that they make quenches me like no other. They have taken their own heart-breaking experiences and instead of allowing their lemons to “rot” they have chosen the road less travelled, the path that requires some additional sacrifice. And I am the beneficiary.
So I am challenged. I have no idea when or where these opportunities face me, but I’d like to put in the work so I’ve got some decent lemonade in supply for when the time comes.
What are your lemons, your own unique experiences that are less than ideal, and how can you “make lemonade” for those people who need to be quenched?
For me, this means I keep writing, keep talking, keep hoping, keep smiling … just keep on going. Because tomorrow someone’s husband is going to die and she’s going to need me to put my arm around her, hold her tightly and say, “you’re going to survive this and I am here for you.”