Bereaved Parents Month Post: How Am I Doing? That’s A Hard Question To Answer.

I promise I’m not being evasive.

But when you ask me how I’m doing I never know exactly what to say.

Do I give the conventional, anticipated answer so we can each get on with our day or do I give you the answer that reflects the state of my heart right now?

Either way is risky.

question

When I go along with convention and answer, “fine”, I let others off the hook.  I assure them the card they wrote or the meal they brought or the flowers they sent have staying power to convince my heart they care.

Depending on my relationship with them, sometimes it’s all (or more than) I expected.  So we’re good.

But sometimes I thought they’d stick around, check in more often or offer some kind of ongoing support.  Then I battle the temptation to reveal the actual state of my heart as a kind of retribution for being abandoned.

When I bravely offer an honest answer, I may catch someone by surprise, or make them supremely uncomfortable, or put them on the defensive as they scramble for some kind of response.

As a society we are simply unequipped to deal with the ongoing impact grief and loss has on a heart.  We want all things to fit into the medical model of “wound-treatment-healing”. 

But they don’t.  

So, so many sad, heartbreaking, life-changing blows are never healed this side of Heaven. 

Child loss is one of them.  

So some days (or moments) I’m doing pretty well.

Some days (or weeks) I’m not well at all.

How am I?

That’s a hard question to answer.  ❤

how are you fine words in letters

 

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Grace and Space

It didn’t take long after Dominic’s leaving for life to ramp up and obligations to pour in. We had two graduations and a wedding within two months of his funeral.

Then there were thank-you notes to write, dishes to return and every day chores necessary to manage a home and family.

No escaping what must be done.

It took me a little while to realize that if I was going to survive this lifelong journey I had to make some changes in how and when I responded to requests to do something, be somewhere or participate in outside events.   Because no matter how worthy the request, there was only so much of me to go around and I was forced to spend nearly all my energy and time and effort on figuring out how this great wound was impacting me and my family.

I cannot overemphasize how much strength and energy is needed to do the work grief requires.

At first, turning down a request or asking someone to reschedule was relatively easy-the loss was fresh in their minds and they were gracious and understanding.  As the weeks and months and now YEARS have passed, it is harder…

Read the rest here:  Grace and Space

How I Sing The Hymns That Hurt My Heart

I grew up singing hymns.

I was introduced to praise choruses in my mid-twenties.

I love both.

I used to hear or sing along to them and feel them feed my spirit.

My family sang in choirs, served on worship teams and was rarely absent from church for over twenty years.  Music was part of everyday life with a special bonus on Sundays.  

dominic at gray haven

Now I find it hard to hear and even harder to sing some hymns I used to love. 

One of the most challenging is “It Is Well”-really, IS it well? 

Can I sing these words with conviction or am I lying my way through just to keep others from asking questions?  

I know the story behind the hymn-at least the part every worship leader or pastor likes to share.  Horatio Spafford wrote the words as he passed the very spot where his daughters drowned in an ocean crossing.  His life didn’t end on a high note.  It’s often introduced as an amazing testimony of victory over grief and death.  If I only cling harder to Jesus, I, too, can experience perfect peace in the midst of great trial and suffering.

it is well hymn music image

We sang that hymn in church a couple of weeks ago and I realized that it is a prayer as much as (or instead of) a declaration.

In many ways, after 5 years, it IS well with my soul.

I’ve reached a place where I can rest easy with unanswered questions and where I have finally received this blow with open arms. I’m not fighting the FACT of my son’s earlier than expected move to Heaven.

On those days, I can sing the chorus as an affirmation of truth.  

i thessalonians 3 peace

But I have days (and sometimes weeks) where life and memories and anniversaries and random stress unsettle me again. So then I sing it as a PRAYER like the psalmist who turns his heart to the only One Who can fill it again with grace, peace and hope. 

It may not be well right NOW, but it WILL be well.  

sings with song

I can trust that He who began a good work in me will complete it.

I can lean on the truth that in Christ every promise of God is “yes” and “amen”.

I know, deep in my bones, that all this heartache will ultimately be redeemed and that whatever I have lost in this life will be gloriously restored in Heaven. 

Blink of an eye heaven

Confession: I Talk To Myself. A LOT.

I used to be the one family and friends hit up for a phone number or address before we all had that information in our pockets via smartphones.  

Now, there are days when I have a hard time remembering my OWN phone number, much less anyone else’s. 

Grief brain and RA fog have wiped my mind clean of not only important facts but also the ability to keep track of what I’m doing and where I’m going.

So I talk to myself.

A LOT.  

 

see me talking getting expert advice

 

It’s one way of keeping me on track and on task.  

I use lists and sticky notes and phone alarms as well, but something about talking myself through the day helps more than all those things.

I also talk myself down from anxious moments.  I repeat, “This is not an emergency, this is not an emergency” over and over when a truly non-threatening trigger ramps up the adrenaline and sends my heart into overdrive.  It is so easy to be driven by urgency if I don’t remind myself of this truth.

anxiety take your time

I remind myself out loud to be careful when walking on slippery mud or working with horses.  Even when I’m not conscious of grief, it can make me careless and inattentive.  I sometimes find that I’ve wandered into a situation where extra attention is absolutely crucial if it’s to end well.  So I say, “Pay attention!” or “Watch out!” just as I would to a roaming toddler or feeble senior.

Complicated tasks have to be broken down now.  I can’t do two things at once.  If I forget and wind up juggling things when I shouldn’t be, I declare, “One thing at a time, Melanie.  One thing at a time!”

focus on one thing at a time

Driving, I’ll calm my nerves in traffic by focusing on my own lane, humming a tune and sometimes saying, “It’s not a race.  Slow down.  Take the easy way and don’t try to get around them.”  My house is 13 miles from the nearest traffic light, so when I have to go to the city, I almost always feel nervous.

And when I get out of the car at each stop I repeat the mantra:  “Keys, phone, list, purse.”

make a list sometimes remember to bring it

I have a running conversation about what I need to do next as I walk from room to room, tidying up.  I chant, “Lock the door.  Turn off the fan.  Feed the cats.” before bedtime.

The good thing about cell phones being everywhere is most times folks probably think I’m talking to someone else. 

What I like best about cell phones is that I can talk to myself in the car now and nobody thinks it’s weird.
― Ron Brackin

Either way, I don’t really care.  

It’s how I manage to get through a day without locking the keys in the car, falling on my backside or melting into an anxious puddle on the floor.  ❤no earpiece no cell phone talking to myself

 

 

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Physical Manifestations of Grief

It’s a well known fact that stress plays a role in many health conditions.  

And I think most of us would agree that child loss is one of (if not THE) most stressful events a heart might endure.  

So it’s unsurprising that bereaved parents find themselves battling a variety of physical problems in the wake of burying a child.  

grief head in hands and stress words

What may be surprising is how uninformed medical and even psychological professionals are with respect to the very real ways child loss intersects with chronic conditions and often creates new symptoms.  

Here is a list of only SOME of the physical manifestations of grief (via What’s Your Grief?) with my own comments :  

Fatigue.  If you’ve always been an energetic sort, you might find this aspect of grief particularly disconcerting.  This kind of fatigue doesn’t get better with rest.  I’ve written about that here. 

Some days I can barely make myself get out of bed and when I do, I struggle to do any but the most necessary tasks.  Don’t automatically dismiss this symptom as ONLY grief (although it most certainly could be!) get a thorough check-up to rule out other causes such as low thyroid, diabetes, heart disease, major depressive disorder or a number of conditions that can be treated effectively with medicine.  Don’t beat yourself up if the doctor decides “nothing is wrong” with you.  You are grieving and grief is work!  I know this symptom has improved for me over time as I’ve established boundaries, admitted limitations and learned to rest when necessary.

charlie brown too tired to cry

Aches and Pains.  Our bodies and minds are connected in ways not well understood.  Mental and emotional distress can make any underlying pain condition that much worse.  When I’m feeling especially lonely, desperate or sad my autoimmune disease flares AND my perception of the very real pain that causes is heightened.  Pain and heartache can lead to a downward spiral that is hard to undo.  Get help and treatment for the physical and give yourself grace and space to endure the emotional causes of body aches.  Don’t self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or other self-destructive coping strategies.  Reach out to a safe person and let them help you find a better way.

painlevels

Headaches.  Needless to say, stress makes tension headaches more likely.  Sometimes, though, a headache can be a symptom of something more serious.  Don’t dismiss an especially sudden, intense or long-lasting headache as “just grief”.  It could be previously undiagnosed high blood pressure, stroke or migraine.  Those being ruled out, various relaxation techniques, cold or warm compresses, over-the-counter analgesics and gentle stretches might help.

Sometimes grief headaches can be alleviated by the simple act of telling our stories.  Bottling up emotions and thoughts adds to the ongoing stress and tension of my child loss burden.  When I spill them-either on paper in a journal, in a closed online bereaved parents’ group or in person to a safe friend or family member-often I feel the band around my head relax and the pain fade away.

Tightness in Chest, Shortness of Breath.  The day I got the awful news, I remember asking friends who came to sit with me over and over, ” Am I still breathing?”  My world was spinning out of control and my body responded.  Anxiety after child loss is real. Broken Heart Syndrome is real.  Heart attacks are not uncommon.  Don’t ignore these symptoms.  But don’t be surprised if they persist despite all tests to the contrary.  When I feel trapped and overwhelmed, a walk outside or even to another room can help.  Deep breathing exercises and grounding exercises can often interrupt an episode.

Broken_Heart_syndrome_EN-01

Forgetfulness.  I wrote this post on Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing! a couple years ago and am always surprised to see it shared repeatedly.  But I think it strikes a chord with any heart walking through grief.  You are not crazy!  You are not experiencing early onset dementia (most likely).  Like other symptoms, get checked out if they persist or worsen.  But odds are, your experience falls within the range of normal for anyone whose life has been shattered by child loss.  Losing things, forgetting things, getting lost in familiar places, missing appointments or bill payments, inability to remember names of people you know well-all of these are common after loss.  In time, the symptoms usually diminish.  They have for me.  I still have to rely on lists and reminders much more often, though.  And that’s OK.

griefbrain1

Inability to Focus.  Like grief brain, this is another cognitive manifestation that’s not only annoying, it can impact life in significant ways.  Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I was an avid reader.  I often had three or four books going at the same time.  I could spend hours focused on a single project.  Not anymore.  I sometimes find it difficult to read a recipe.

I have to take frequent breaks when working on something because my mind gets fuzzy and I just can’t pay attention for more than a few minutes at a time.  Some bereaved parents have to change jobs or careers because they are not able to perform necessary tasks anymore.  This particular symptom has not improved very much for me although I’ve found ways around it.  I use lists to keep an external record of what I should be doing and when.  I mix up mindless chores with ones that require more attention to give my brain a break.  I try to dissect larger jobs into smaller, manageable chunks.  And sometimes I just have to admit that today a particular thing just isn’t happening. 

Appetite or Digestive Issues.  Stress has long been linked to gut problems.  I suspect we’ve all had that “rumbling in our tummy” from time to time even before child loss.  For many of us it’s exponentially worse after.  Some bereaved parents try to stuff emotions by stuffing themselves with food.  Others can’t eat at all.  Still others experience stomach ulcers or bowel disease ranging from acute to chronic.  I was hospitalized twice in the first year after my son’s death for serious colon issues.

Again, don’t ignore sudden or persistent symptoms.  Try to eat well and avoid self-medicating with food.  Added pounds rarely add up to better emotional or mental health.  I let pounds I’d lost ten years ago find me again.  Get help if you need to from someone willing to act as an accountability partner.  I’ve recently joined a friend in setting goals for ourselves and sharing recipes and meal prep.  Try to treat food as another aspect of grief work and manage it the best you can.

the struggle bus

Getting Sick More Often.  Stress lowers the immune system.  That’s a fact.  So when bereaved parents encounter germs (as we all do from time to time) it may well be our bodies don’t have the energy or resources to combat them.  Colds, flu, strep throat, skin infections may all be more likely this side of child loss.  Don’t be discouraged to seek treatment.  There is so much we can’t control in life, but getting antibiotics for an infection is pretty easy.

It’s not in your head, mom or dad! 

Grief has real physical manifestations.   

Don’t be dismissed or denied the care you need. 

Educate your healthcare providers and insist on being heard. 

the weight of grief without words

*photo credit:  The Weight of Grief  Scupture ~ Celeste Roberge*

 

Repost: Words Matter

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” ~Jesus

Have you ever had a moment when words “slipped out” before you could stop them?  

I have.  

Standing amidst the wreckage of hasty speech I would do almost anything to stuff them back inside.

I like to pretend that I didn’t mean what I said.  I like to imagine that the words don’t reflect what I really feel.

Read the rest here:  Words Matter