Dealing With Anxious Thoughts

I no longer have to imagine the worst thing that could happen in the life of a mother-I know exactly how it feels. 

And if I allow my heart to ponder that too often or too long, it consumes me.

So I am learning to take those anxious thoughts captive, learning to make them live in only a small corner of my mind instead of taking it over completely.

It takes effort and discipline, but it’s possible.  

I don’t have to live the rest of my days a quivering mess- afraid of every sunrise, every phone call, every mile my family travels:

  • I confront my fear with facts:  The absolute truth is that it is no more likely I will lose a child today than it was the day I lost Dominic.  I’m not good at determining odds-if I toss a coin ten times and it lands on “heads”-I’m convinced that next time it HAS to be “tails”.  But that’s just not true.  EVERY time the coin is tossed, it has exactly a 50/50 chance of landing on “heads” or “tails” regardless of what happened last time.  That’s not how it FEELS, but that’s how it IS.

coin_toss_11

  • I refuse to feed my fear:  I don’t linger over news stories that play up danger or magnify the possibility of catching rare diseases.  Do these things happen?  ABSOLUTELY!  But are they likely to happen to me or someone I love, probably not.  I will not fuel the fire of fear that threatens to rage through my mind.
  • I take reasonable precautions:  My family wears seatbelts.  We take our vitamins and go to the doctor when we need to.  We eat right and exercise.  We don’t walk across streets without looking both ways.  These were all things we did before Dominic’s accident and we continue to do them now.  Not one of them would have made a diference that night but they help me feel better.

 

crosswalk

  • I limit my exposure to uncertainty:  If I’m concerned about someone, I call or text.  It’s that simple.  I don’t have to live for hours wondering if they are OK.  I’m careful not to infringe on my adult children’s lives by a never-ending series of contacts, but they understand my heart.  We try to be mindful of letting each other know we arrive safely to our destination.
  • I exercise control in other areas of my life:  Anxiety is a beast that grows stronger the more out of control I feel.  I cannot keep my family absolutely safe-it’s not in my power to do so. BUT, I can control some aspects of life.  So I do.  Even cleaning out a messy junk drawer helps bolster my sense of control.  Small, easy to complete projects feed the part of my brain that says, “You can do this!”

take-control-of-your-life

  • I limit caffeine and other stimulants:  Increased heart rate, rapid breathing and sweaty palms are signs of anxiety.  Caffeine can produce these effects even when I’m not anxious. If my body is feeling this way, my mind is quick to jump on board.  

angry

  • I practice distraction:  There are times when I find myself feeling anxious despite my best efforts.  When that happens, I am learning to distract myself.  I find something to touch, smell, hear or taste that can help me regain composure.  I count backwards from ten or twenty.  I hum a song or recite a Bible verse.  I add numbers in my head or do multiplication tables.
  • I live in the present:  I have no idea what tomorrow holds.  If I allow my heart to dwell on what might happen, I will be useless for today.  So while I make marks on the calendar for appointments, I wake each morning determined to live right now.

now

Because, really, that’s all any of us has. 

I Don’t Want to Know The Future

Many years ago my grandparents had a lovely Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration with family and friends.

My dad videotaped it and the tape was full of fun moments where my grandmother was smiling, laughing and having a wonderful day.

It was a short time afterward that she began to show signs of dementia and not very long after that she left us.

We watched the videotape a year or two after her leaving and I thought, “What a mercy she didn’t know what was coming!”

Those moments were full of unadulterated joy because a sorrowful future was hidden from her heart.

What a mercy that curves in the road obscure my vision and mountaintop to mountaintop hides valleys in between.

I am so very thankful that I did not live the 23+ years I had with Dominic knowing his accident was coming. I was free to love him without fear.

If I, like God, knew the end from the beginning my heart could never bear the burden of foresight.

But He, in kindness, withholds the knowledge from my feeble frame and leads me step by step each day.

 

i-dont-know-what-tomorrow-holds-but-i-know-who-holds-tomorrow

 

Repost: Season of Joy-Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

 

merry-christmas-tree

This was a post I wrote last year around this time.  It was my first attempt to express how hard the holidays can be for those missing someone they love.

“Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…”

Read the rest here:  Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Magical Bear Traps

 

My heart hurts every time a name is added to this awful “club” no one wants to join.

One more family knows our pain.

One more family has an empty chair at holiday gatherings.

woman-looking-out-of-window

But I am thankful for the moms and dads that share their hearts in bereaved parents’ groups.  I’m thankful for the safe space to speak honestly about what this life feels like and the challenges that greet us in this Valley.

A  fellow waiting mom, Brenda Ehly, shared this on her personal Facebook page.  I asked her if I could post it here and she graciously gave me permission:

“So, every now and then, I am asked, ‘How are you?’

Just in case any of them meant, ‘What is it like to be grieving a child during the holiday season?’ let me try to explain:

First, imagine you have stepped into a bear trap.

bear-trap

It hurts.

A lot.

Sadly, it’s a magical bear trap, that you will never be able to remove. (That’s your initial loss). Weirdly, after awhile, you sort of (not exactly) get used to it.

Now, imagine that at completely random intervals, a large bear suddenly appears, and, mistakenly thinking that you’re the one who’s been setting bear traps in the forest, repeatedly punches you in the nose.

Hard.

This bear throws one heck of a punch. (This is what happens when you go shopping at the grocery store and Andy Williams croons, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” at you).

So, is it all miserable, all the time?

raccon-with-coffe

Absolutely not; every now and then, an adorable, enchanted raccoon brings you a tall mocha and a blueberry scone, and that is very nice, because even if you’re stuck in a magical (and excruciatingly painful) bear trap, a tall mocha and a fresh scone are still welcome and refreshing.

There.

That’s the best I can do right now.”

Love Tokens

missing-someone

I keep it in my pocket-  

an old trinket or a square of fabric or a small photo in a tiny frame.

heart and wood

A little bit of you to hold when I am overwhelmed.

It’s my touchstone, my way of shutting out the world for just a moment –tuning in to love and holding on to hope.

I hold you near so that I can hold on.

No one ever knows how close I come to shouting, “I can’t do this anymore!”

Because I never do.

shameNo one hears the pieces of my shattered heart fall to the floor.

Because only those who share this pain have ears to hear.

just-breatheNo one is aware of my counting breaths-in and out, in and out-just so I can stay in my chair.

Because I never run away.

 

 

 

Repost: Buying Time?

think-you-have-time

This season has most of us rushing from one place to another, squeezing in another activity, seeking just the right something to put under the Christmas tree.  We start the day after Thanksgiving and hurry into December, and suddenly the month is gone, the days have fled….

Read the rest here: Buying Time?

The Power of Lament to Make Room for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.

I loved everything about it:  the color scheme, the food (I love, love, love to cook-it was never a burden), family and friends gathered around the table, and the wonderful slowness of the day as it lingered into nightfall.

It was more flexible than Christmas for including all sorts of folks who otherwise didn’t have someplace to go. Living near colleges meant that  we welcomed students from around the world-we might have two or three dozen laughing faces milling about.

happy-thanksgiving

 

It was wonderful.

And I loved going around the circle, tummies bursting, to share what people were thankful for and why.

When Dominic left us everything  changed.

Oh, I was (and still am) so very thankful for so very many things-my family, daily physical provision, ongoing care and love of friends, the enduring faithful mercy of God.

photo (20)

But there’s something else too:  there is deep sorrow at the unavoidable FACT that when God COULD have stepped in and changed an outcome, He DIDN’T.

pain-behind-every-tear

And I’m having to learn to open my heart to thankfulness while also bearing witness to this pain.

Praise and lament in the same breath.

I have plenty of company.

be broken brennan manningThe world we live in is full of pain and suffering.  Injustice reigns.  We make our way through thorns and by the sweat of our brow.

It is just plain hard.

The psalmist acknowledges that.  He doesn’t rush past the pain.  He doesn’t gloss over the broken places.

He empties his heart of the feeling that God has forgotten.  But he doesn’t stop there-he chooses to bring the emptiness back to the only One Who can fill it up again.

Like the psalmist, I’m learning  that I must exhale before I can inhale.

I must admit the burden of hopelessness to make room for the blessing of hope.

“With my voice I cry out to the LORD: with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.”

I ADMIT I FEEL ABANDONED:

In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

AND YET I WILL CHOOSE TO TRUST:

I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

IN THE HOPE THAT GOD HEARS:

Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!

SO THAT MY TESTIMONY MAY BE ONE OF PRAISE:

Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!

Psalm 142, selected

As I sit at the table, cherishing the companionship of those I love and missing the one I can no longer see, I will embrace thanksgiving and lament.

I will exhale and inhale.

I will beg for grace and mercy because I can no longer beg to be spared from sorrow.

I will ask for eyes to see and a faithful heart while I wait.

worn snow

 

 

 

 

Plus Three

 

sunrise trees

Today I am 53born one day after the assasination of JFK.

I always thought that would be the most signifcant marker of my otherwise quiet life.

But it isn’t.

I wrote this post last year and it still speaks for my heart:  Jubilee

 

Nothing “Normal” About It

fleeting-past-woman-and-windy-day

Something you hear early on in this grief journey is that one day you will find a “new normal”.

I hate that phrase.

Because while I have certainly developed new routines, new ways of dealing with life, new methods for quelling the tears and the longing and the sorrow and the pain-it is NOT normal.

It will never be “normal” for my son to be missing.

It will never be normal that he died out of order-at 23-in perfect health, full of promise, vibrant and strong.  It is not normal that I now visit his body in a cemetery instead of his living presence in his own home.  It is not normal that one chair at my table is always empty, his drums lie stacked and silent in my upstairs bedroom and the only image of his smiling face is on my wall instead of waving at me going down the driveway.

No.  This is not normal.

Does life continue?  Absolutely!

Are there moments of joy?  Definitely!

I have three surviving children and they are full of life.  I am proud of them not only for doing the things that grown-ups do but for doing them well while carrying this burden of grief.

But that’s not normal either.

They have lost a lifetime companion, a piece of themselves as well as their brother.  Their circle is broken, undone and can never be made whole again this side of eternity.

The parents they knew are gone.

We are learning to live this way.  

But it is NOT normal.

of-all-the-sad-words-what-might-have-been

Stronger Together

Remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz? She found herself on an unexpected journey with no one except her dog. Then she made a few new friends who were all looking for solutions to their needs. What did they do? They locked arms as they traveled the yellow brick road and encountered its hazards together. As a group, they pressed on toward the Emerald City.

Alone, they were overwhelmed; they succumbed to their fears and obstacles. But when they came together, they found the courage and strength they needed to keep going. They became a healing community sharing common pain and goals.

~Dena Yohe, You Are Not Alone

I’m not making a political statement.

Instead, it’s a very personal truth that I repeat often to myself: We are Stronger Together.

Because left alone in my grief, my sorrow and this dark valley I will give up and give in.  By myself, I will convince my heart that there is no hope. Isolated, I will lose sight of the tiny glimmer of light in the distance that can guide me home.

There are many brave women who have come alongside and joined me in this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Some I know only from exchanged messages or posts on bereaved parents’ boards.  Some I have had the blessed opportunity to meet in person-share a meal or a coffee-and see the beautiful face that encourages me when I think I can’t go on.

Others are authors whose words breathe hope into my exhausted soul.

These linked arms make an unbreakable chain of love, support and affirmation that gives me courage to carry on.

And I am thankful for each and every one.

circle-of-women