There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.
In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”
It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group. After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.
But, oh, when I did! What relief! What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!
I have learned so much from these precious people.
Here’s a few of the nuggets of wisdom I carry like treasure in my heart:
Everyone has a story. No one comes to tragedy a blank slate. They have a life that informs how or if they are able to cope with this new and terrible burden. Not everyone has the same resources I do-emotional, spiritual or otherwise. Don’t put expectations on someone based on my own background. Be gracious-always.
Everyone deserves to be heard. Some folks really only have one or two things that they insist on saying over and over and over again. That’s OK. If they are saying them, it’s because they need to be heard. Lots of folks do not have a safe space to speak their heart. But it’s only in speaking aloud the things inside that we can begin to deal with them.
Everyone (or almost everyone) is worried that they aren’t doing this “right”. Society brings so much pressure to bear on the grieving. “Get better”, “Get over it”, “Move on”. And when we can’t, we think there is something dreadfully wrong with us. But there isn’t. Grief is hard and takes time no matter what the source. But it is harder and takes a lifetime when it’s your child. Out of order death is devastating. “Normal” is anything that keeps a body going and a mind engaged in reality without being destructive to oneself or others.
Everyone can be nicer than they think they can. Here’s the deal: I THINK a lot of things. I don’t have to SAY (or write!) them. I’ll be honest, sometimes my first response to what someone shares is not very nice. But when I take a breath and consider what might help a heart instead of hurt one, I can usually find a way to speak truth but also courage. Snark is never helpful. If I can’t say anything nice, then I just scroll on by.
Everyone has something to give. I’ve learned that even the most broken, the most unlovely, the least well-spoken persons have something to offer. It may take a little dusting off to find the beauty underneath, but my heart is stretched when I take time and put forth effort to truly listen to what’s being said instead of just ignoring it because of how it’s said.
Everyone deserves grace. Because I am the recipient of grace, it is mine to give-without fear of running out-to every other heart I meet. Sometimes I forget this. I want to apply a different measure to others than I want applied to me. But grace is the oil that greases human relationships. Freely given and freely received, it provides a safe space for hearts to experience healing.
Everyone is standing on level ground when we gather at the foot of the cross. There’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom. We are all servants. I am responsible to my Master for walking in love and doing the good works He has prepared beforehand for me to do. My works are not your works and your works are not my works. I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on others always trying to see if I(or they!) “measure up”. The standard is our Shepherd and only grace and mercy can help me strive for that goal.
Everyone needs courage. When Jesus gave His charge to the disciples He told them it was “better for you that I go”. What??? How could that be better? But it WAS. Because when Jesus returned to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit as the personal, indwelt connection to Himself. He knew they would need courage to make it through. The Spirit calls courage to our hearts. And we are given the privilege of calling courage to one another. The bravest among us quivers sometimes. You’d be surprised how often one word is the difference between letting go and holding on.
There are dozens more things I could share.
I have met some of the kindest, wisest and most grace-filled people this side of child loss.
They have been the purest example of the Body of Christ I’ve ever known.
I am thankful for what they are teaching me.