“Special Handling Required”

This time of year all the package handlers are busy dropping off the bounty of online shoppers’ purchases to millions of doorsteps around the world.  

It’s a wonder that most of it arrives on time and in good condition.  

amazon boxes at door

I suspect though, that you, like me, have gotten one or two boxes over the years that arrived dinged and damaged, battered and broken.

While it can be a real hassle to get the product replaced, it’s usually only a matter of time before a brand new “whatever” arrives.  

People aren’t so easily mended, though.  

And I think we forget that.  

People are more fragile than they appear. Words are more piercing than we realize. We should add in an extra notch of kindness and gentleness whenever we can.

~Gavin Ortlund

I have friends that take more care with their smartphone than with their spouse or children or parents.

Things can be replaced.  People can’t.

Mass produced consumer goods-no matter how expensive or treasured-are worthless compared to a heart.

In an age where clicks and phone calls make it possible to fix so many things, they are rarely helpful in fixing relationships.

“Special Handling Required!” should be plastered across every human’s forehead.  

People are irreplaceable, fragile, beautiful gifts.  

More valuable than anything we could ever buy.  ❤

words and hearts should be handled with care

 

 

 

 

When Sleep Won’t Fix It

I learned early on to make do on less sleep than I really need.

Four children in six years will do that to you.

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

It’s not that I have a physical need for sleep these days-although there are many nights when sleep eludes me.

It’s more that I am soul weary. 

Worn down in ways that sleep won’t touch.  Frayed and frazzled and falling down tired.

I wake up hopeful every morning.  “Today is going to be a productive, encouraging day!”

Sometimes I make it as far as lunchtime before fatigue sets in and overwhelms my good intentions.

I wish it were just a matter of extra shut eye!  I wish I could crawl up in the bed for 24 hours and wake refreshed, renewed and ready to go.

But I can’t.

Sleep won’t fix what’s wrong with me.

It can help.

If I’m physically drained in addition to emotionally exhausted then that’s never a good thing.  My fuse is shorter by the minute when my body is crying for rest.

sleep night terrors

Lack of sunlight, gray days and added stress from holiday preparations and obligations deepens the weariness in my bones.  I feel guilty sometimes because I know my life is still full of many blessings.  I really, truly do NOT take them for granted.  (How could I when I know how quickly and unexpectedly they can be gone?)

Still, all the blessings in the world can’t undo this exhaustion.

I’m well aware that discouragement begets discouragement and try so very hard to strive against it.  But in the end, I’m not sure I’m successful.

When I say to someone, “I’m so very tired!” they nearly always suggest a nap.  Trust me, if a nap would erase this soul weariness, I’d take one every single day.

But it doesn’t, so I don’t.

Instead I go outside and breathe some fresh air, make a cup of hot tea and sit down with a good book, or just sit down and watch the Christmas lights or a candle with my cat in my lap.

hand-coffee-roosevelt

That seems to help. 

It resets my focus and refuels my soul.

Night closes in and I find I’ve made it through another day.  <3

glowing candles huff post

 

 

Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Think about Scrooge.  When was his heart able to make the turn and embrace the joy that Christmas represents?  It took one long night and four strange visitors to take him down a path where he understood his own strength was woefully inadequate to accomplish anything.  It was finally the spectre of death-death of relationships, death of a child and the certainty of his own lonely demise that shook him from slumber and awakened him to real life and love and joy.

scrooge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Now consider the story of the first Christmas.  Two poor sojourners in desperate need of a place to stay and, even more important, a place to birth a baby. 

But not just any baby.  No, this was the Promised One, Immanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Light of the World.  Yet He made His appearance in the dark, in a stable and unnoticed.

I don’t know if Mary felt hope-filled or hopeless as she labored without the company of other women to encourage and guide her.  But I can imagine there were moments if not hours, of something like hopelessness.

Yet it ended with her holding the God of the universe in her hands.

jesus-christmas

What about Israel?  Four hundred long years since Jehovah had shut the mouths of prophets and allowed the Apple of His Eye to wallow in the darkness they had begged for by turning away from the God Who loved them.  Prophesies were still handed down like good luck tokens but many who heard them had long ago decided they didn’t matter.

It was dark in the world of Judea.

So, so very dark.

Hopelessness prevailed.

And that is precisely when the angel showed up and the sky was bright with praise:

Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 

~Luke 2:10-11 VOICE

It was all the brighter because it was dark.  It was that much more joyous because hopeless hearts were longing for something to cling to.

shepherds angels

There is no shame in being hopeless and broken.

God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Christmas is the story of Hope entering the world, of Light shining forth in darkness, of Love overcoming death.

A heart has to be looking to find it.

A heart has to be desperate to believe it.

A heart has to be hungry to come to the table of everlasting bread.

Have you been living in the land of deep shadows? I have. I’ve spent long years in that gray and weary country, and sometimes it makes me feel disqualified from Christmas. Most Christmas carols do not talk about daunting shadows or dreary days. They talk about sparkle and shimmer. They talk ho-ho-ho-ing and mistletoeing, and all of that is fine and fun if you’re having a great year. But let’s be honest about the fact that this relentless commercialized happiness is not really what lives at the heart of Christmas.

Christmas is deeper than that.  It reaches into darker places.  Jesus didn’t come to cheer us up.  He came into the shadowlands we call home to set us free.  He came to untangle us from the despair that wraps itself around our joy and peace and purpose.  It seems, then, that hopelessness is the very first qualification for receiving the bright hope of Christmas.  Perhaps you are exactly where you need to be to experience the miracle of Advent after all.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

 

This Is What I Want You To Know About A Grieving Parent’s Heart

I wrote this three years ago and it was probably one of the first posts where I was bold enough to bare it all.

I was afraid to hit “publish” because I was afraid it would be misunderstood or seem pushy or too raw.

But then something amazing happened-I was out shopping later that day and had an email come through from the Huffington Post.

I thought it was a joke.

It wasn’t-they wanted to publish this on their blogging website platform.   And they did.  (You can read it here.)

It’s still one of my favorite posts-not because it was picked up by them but because it’s been shared by many, many grieving parents in an attempt to open the door of the closet full of emotions we often keep hidden.

People say“I can’t imagine.

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

It isn’t nostalgia for a time when things were different or better or you talked more: it’s a gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, knee-buckling, aching groan that lives inside you begging to be released.

Read the rest What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know.

 

Busy

My empty nest means I’m rarely crazy busy even around the holidays.  

I no longer have to fit in shopping whenever I can manage it because little eyes might be watching or Christmas choir performances and church programs fill the calendar.  

No.  

Most of my shopping is online and I don’t even have to worry about whisking gifts off the porch before anyone sees them.

I’m a different kind of busy now.  

I’m busy making sure I’m not overexposed to Christmas commercials, Christmas movies or Christmas carols because they are likely to open the floodgates of tears I keep behind a dam of determination.

I’m busy drawing deep breaths when I pick up the phone and it’s a relative that never calls but needs an address for a Christmas card and, since I’m apparently the Keeper of the Addresses, always calls me.

I’m busy looking away from the childhood photos lining my upstairs hallway so I can stay focused on the vacuuming that needs doing.

I’m busy pinning down fruitless thoughts of “what if” or “if only” or “I wish”.

I’m busy getting things ready for the brief time my remaining family will be gathered around the dining room table.  I’m trying hard to accommodate schedules and preferences and favorite foods and treasured traditions.

I’m busy pushing back sadness that threatens to overwhelm me in the dark of the year when clouds and rain make it even darker, even earlier.  I’m lighting candles, plugging in lights and adding cheerful touches here and there to drive out the shadows that come creeping.

From the outside looking in, I’m awash in free time and easy choices.  

And some folks wonder why I don’t answer the phone or join in the party.  

But I am very, very busy.  

I was busy

Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Friend

It would be helpful if the world could just stop for a day or a week (or a year!) when your heart is shattered by the news that one of the children you birthed into this world has suddenly left it.

But it doesn’t.

And immediately all the roles I have played for decades are overlaid by a new role:  bereaved mother.  Except instead of being definitive or even descriptive, this role is more like a foggy blanket that obscures and disorients me as I struggle to fulfill all the roles to which I’ve become accustomed.

Now I’m a bereaved mother AND 

  • wife,
  • mother to surviving siblings,
  • daughter,
  • sister,
  • friend.

In addition to all the challenges those various roles represent, I have a new challenge: 

How can I be the person I need to be for the ones I love when I’m barely able to be any kind of person at all?  How do I encourage THEM when I have to give myself a pep talk just to get out of the bed?  How do I navigate my own emotional landmines and help them navigate theirs so we all arrive safely on the other side of birthdays, holidays and special occasions?

I have to admit that I have. absolutely. no. idea.

I’m trying.  I don’t give up (although I want to!).  I keep showing up and having conversations (even some that are one-sided as I take the brunt of another’s emotional explosion).  I try to be a middleman and get first one person’s perspective and then another’s-negotiating for common ground and some kind of compromise.

But it often backfires.

No matter how hard I work at it, I can’t please everyone.  And the problem with being seen as the negotiator is that if things don’t turn out well, you are the scapegoat too.

I’ll be honest.  There have been more than a few days this past month I wanted to crawl up in the bed, pull the covers over my head and not answer the door or the phone.

After nearly five years of this, I’m worn down, worn out, feeling sick, feeling incompetent and feeling like no matter how hard I try it really doesn’t matter. 

I know it’s not true.  

But it feels that way.  

And it takes another giant bolus of energy I don’t really have to drag my butt out of the bed, make a list, make phone calls, do the things that need doing and then show up, smiling, to whatever event is next. 

Because that’s what wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends do.  

hope whispers blinding light

Just Yesterday and Forever

The human heart is a funny thing-always working hard to protect itself from grievous injury yet prone to exactly what it tries to prevent.

I honestly believe that one of the gifts of early grief is disbelief.  Because if I could have understood at once what it meant that Dominic was really, truly GONE, I would have never lasted the first 24 hours.

Even now, going on seven years, my head plays games with my heart.

Missing my son is very much like bringing him home except in reverse.

I don’t know about you, but each child added to our quiver slipped in and seemed like he had always been there.  It was nearly impossible to remember life before he joined us.  I knew, as a matter of FACT, that months and even years had passed without him there, but it was so natural, so beautiful, so perfect now that he was here, the before faded in the background of the after.

It’s much the same way now that he’s gone.  

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human mind and heart.  The spaces I was able to keep sacred to Dominic’s memory (or maybe because some part of my heart held out hope he’d return) are slowly being filled in by people and events and things that he’s never met, participated in or touched.  They crowd out the Sacred Spaces I have worked hard to maintain.

And bit by bit it’s as if it’s always been THIS way.  

Only it hasn’t.  

I’m not forgetting my son.  That will NEVER happen.  But I am losing the daily pathways that once helped me trace his fingerprints on my life, my belongings and my heart.  

And that makes me sad.  

I’m trying hard to find new ways to keep him current, part of everyday conversation, events and gatherings.  I want his name mentioned as naturally as that of my other children.  I want the funny things he used to do remembered and recounted.  I want my oldest son’s child to know Uncle Dominic as well as his or her other aunts and uncles.

There are still moments, days and even a week here and there, when it feels like only yesterday that Dominic left for Heaven.  The pain is as fresh, as intense, as unbelievable as it was when I got the news. 

That shocks me every time.  

But most days I’m digging deep to tap old memories, working hard to weave his story into our ongoing story and looking for ways to keep his legacy alive for the generation to come.  

Time is a funny thing.

Yesterday AND forever.  

Another Year, Another Christmas: 25 Practical Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

This is the fifth Christmas without Dominic. There really are no words to describe the intersection of holiday cheer and another milestone in this journey of child loss.

I’m not sad all the time-far from it. Often I am very, very happy.

But I will never stop missing him, missing the family we used to be and missing our blissful ignorance of how quickly and utterly life can change in an instant.

And I will never outgrow the need to have others remember him as well, to encourage my heart and the hearts of my family members and to help us make it through another year, another Christmas.  ❤

Here are some great ways to do it:  25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

Good Answers to Hard (Insensitive,Inappropriate) Questions

I was utterly amazed at the questions people plied me with not long after Dominic’s accident.

They ranged from digging for details about what happened (when we ourselves were still unsure) to ridiculous requests for when I’d be returning to my previous responsibilities in a local ministry.

Since then, many of my bereaved parent friends have shared even more questions that have been lobbed at them across tables, across rooms and in the grocery store.

Recently there was a post in our group that generated so many excellent answers to these kinds of questions, I asked permission to reprint them here (without names, of course!).

So here they are, good answers to hard (or inappropriate or just plain ridiculous) questions:

When asked to do something the week or month or even year after your child left:

  • No.  (It’s a complete sentence.  You do not have to give an explanation.)
  • Thank you for asking me.  I won’t be able to participate this time.
  • I’m so sorry.  This is a hard time of year for me and I just can’t do it.
  • Since my son’s accident, I don’t do well at holidays (or summer, or birthday month).  I can’t take on any extra responsibilities right now.
  • I’m sorry, we will be out of town. (If you really WILL be out of town.)

When asked about the details of your child’s death:

  • Why do you ask? (Stops them nearly every time.)
  • That’s an uncomfortable question that I’d rather not answer.
  • Does it matter?
  • We choose not to talk about his/her death and prefer to talk about his/her life.  Would you like to know something about him/her?
  • I prefer not to relive that trauma, thank you.

When asked, “How are you?”:

  • About as well as you would imagine given the circumstances.
  • Managing to do what must be done but very sad my son (or daughter) is no longer here with me.
  • Trying hard to put the pieces back together.  It’s a struggle every day.
  • Our family is loving one another through the hardest thing we’ve ever experienced.
  • How are YOU?  (Most won’t even notice you didn’t answer and will launch into their own discourse.)

When asked if you think you’re “back to normal” or “over it”:

  • No.  (It’s a complete sentence, see above.)
  • I’ll never be over my child. I’m not over any of my children.  How could I be?
  • My life has been shattered.  I can’t even find all the pieces much less assemble them into whatever normal used to be.
  • I don’t remember what “normal” is.
  • It’s a daily adjustment that I will be making for the rest of my life.

When asked anything at all that seems insensitive, inappropriate or just downright nosey:

  • I’m so sorry, I need to go.  Bye!
  • I can’t talk about that now.
  • Say nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Until they change the subject for you.
  • How are you?  Your children?  (Or any other question back at them-ignoring theirs)

I am obligated (by my profession of faith) to be as kind and polite as I can be but I am not obligated to answer every question someone asks.  

I’ve found that having some of these pat answers in my pocket helps.  Many of them are good for just about any question that may come my way.  

I try to deflect, demur or redirect.  

But when that fails I’m just as likely to tell the truth, which is often not at all what the person really wants to hear.  

And then they are left scrambling for a way out of a conversation I never wanted to have in the first place. 

Which is fine with me.  

silent with heart

Repost: Trusting God After Loss-Why It’s Hard, Why It’s Necessary

This time of year when broken hearts are surrounded by happy hearts it can hit hard.  

“Why, oh why is MY child not here?”  

“Where were You, God?” 

Believe me, more than four years later and I fall right back into the same questions I thought I had asked and answered (or become satisfied NOT to answer).

So I have to return to the basics of walking my heart through the steps of leaning into trust.

I wrote this awhile ago-combining in one post all the posts in this series.  I pray that if you, like me, need a refresher course in trusting God after loss, it helps your heart. 

One of the greatest challenges I faced this side of child loss was finding a space where I could speak honestly and openly about my feelings toward God and about my faith.

So many times I was shut down at the point of transparency by someone shooting off a Bible verse or hymn chorus or just a chipper, “God’s in control!”

They had NO IDEA how believing that (and I do!) God is in control was both comforting and utterly devastating at the very same time.

Read the rest here:  Trusting God After Loss: Why It’s Hard, Why It’s Necessary