Walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, A Mother's Journey of Child Loss
I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.
I have always, always felt a special duty to tread lightly with respect to those parents in particular. I want to honor them and never suggest I speak for them. I’ve started and discarded at least a dozen posts on child loss and suicide.
So when a mom who lost a child to suicide shared this in one of our closed groups, I messaged her and asked permission to publish her comment here.
So here are HER words, precisely as she shared them:
Everyone knows about your wrinkles, your less-than-perfect figure and your lopsided smile.
So refusing to stand still for a picture ( unless you feel you “look your best”) when someone begs you to join in is not really effective in curating your photographic legacy for generations to come.
What will happen instead is that those who long to have photographic evidence of your sense of humor, your sense of style, your silly antics and serious moments will instead have a giant hole in the family album.
I just finished a week-long adventure that included two dogs, four cats, five adults and one infant crammed into a house that hasn’t seen that much action in a decade.
My son’s family had to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Dorian (which, thankfully, didn’t do near the damage to their area as anticipated!) and came north to my parents’ place. I drove south to meet them.
It was an opportunity to make pictures we will treasure for years to come even if many of them aren’t even near “perfect”.
My mom (on oxygen and in her nightshirt), my dad (sometimes sweaty from outdoor work), me (absolutely NOT dressing up or wearing makeup) and the baby had fun snapping candid and not-so-candid photos.
I’m not sure if many or any of them will ever make it to the boxes we used to use for Kodak moments since our phones are our photo storage units, but I know we will look back on them fondly and enjoy reliving the moments when we gathered round the TV wondering if or when Dorian might make its way up the coast of Florida.
I think I’ll print some out for my mama whose memory is failing her but whose smile shone bright when holding her great-grandson.
So go ahead, take that picture!
You never know when it might be all you’ve got left of someone you love.
I think we often interpret Old Testament Bible verses in terms of New Testament reality.
Sometimes that’s warranted because the verses foreshadow the fullness of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection.
But sometimes we miss out on the deeper meaning of what God was saying through His prophets.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” quoted as a general blessing/admonition/encouragement at the beginning of a worship service or just the start of an ordinary day.
I don’t think that’s technically a misappropriation of the sentiment, but I do think it falls far short of what the Psalmist was trying to convey.
The Temple stood on a hill above Jerusalem and those last steps for the pilgrims who traveled faithfully three times a year to celebrate the appointed festivals were hard. Many had walked miles and miles and were just plain tired.
So they sang songs (Psalms) to encourage their hearts as they plodded forward.
If you have a Bible with notes you’ll see them marked as “Songs of Ascent” because that was exactly what they were.
In addition to the expense, time, effort and commitment it took to make it to the Temple, pilgrims were expected to offer a sacrifice. Some could bring their own and some had to purchase a lamb or ram or other sacrificial animal from those offered by vendors just outside the inner courts.
It could be easy to resent the cost of coming.
It would be absolutely understandable to get just a bit disgruntled making those last few steps to plunk down a sacrifice to a God they couldn’t see.
So the Psalmist says, “This is the DAY(the appointed feast, the reminder of covenant, the renewal of promise) the Lord (Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and you) has made (ordained, appointed, set aside). Let us rejoice (revel in the fact that He has chosen us of all people, that He is faithful, that we can come and worship) in it.”
God doesn’t need my lamb or goat or calf.
The feasts weren’t designed to jog His memory regarding my relationship with Him, they were designed to help ME remember that I am creature and He is Creator.
And I need that reminder most when things are hard, when I am tired and when I may have forgotten that worship is a privilege.
Some days are uphill all the way.
I’ve had a few of those lately.
And while this verse isn’t really about ordinary days, it helps my heart as much on those as it does on the special ones. ❤
I’m always torn between sharing about suicide awareness and just offering a listening ear to survivors of suicide.
On the one hand, I don’t want a single person who may be shouting warning signals to end up completing suicide because no one listened.
On the other, I want to protect bereaved parents and siblings from any additional guilt they may feel because they “missed” such signals.
But since suicide is at epidemic proportions in our country-especially among young people and veterans-I’m going to try to navigate the middle ground.
To anyone whose loved one left this life by suicide let me say this: You are not responsible! Even if in hindsight you feel like you missed cues or didn’t notice tell-tale signs, in the end it was their own action that led to death.
I do not believe suicide is selfish.
I believe suicide results from pain so unbearable a heart simply thinks there is no other way to end it. It’s not a conscious act as such, it’s a reflexive response to intense pain.
I also know that mental illness-often untreated because it is undiagnosed-wrecks havoc with the logical, reasoning part of a brain.
To those who may be contemplating suicide (something I know many, many bereaved parents think about) let me say this: If you are considering it, reach out.
You are a unique creation and cannot be replaced.
There are resources available and people not only willing, but LONGING, to help you hold onto hope.
As you fall deeper and deeper into the pit of despair, it’s easy to lose sight of the truth that darkness is not all that exists. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s nearly impossible of your own volition to will yourself out of the funk.
This is where suicide prevention has a role to play.
If someone seems “off”, don’t ignore it, dismiss it or excuse yourself from asking hard questions (even at the risk of being rebuffed or worse).
Often a single person extending a hand and listening ear at just the right moment grants space for a hurting heart to reconsider suicide as the only way out of pain. If they won’t respond in spite of your best efforts, enlist allies.
And walk gently among your fellow humans!
You may never know when your smile, opened door, random encouraging word or knowing glance is the difference between a stranger going home to end it all and going home and making a phone call to get help.
Today went from OK to not good at all in a matter of hours.
Before lunchtime I had a confrontation with someone I love, entered a public space (when I thought I had my emotions in check) and couldn’t stop crying, misplaced my debit card, misplaced my driver’s license and lost my mind.
I desperately needed a do-over.
And then I realized that I hadn’t queued up a new post. Which really isn’t that big a deal to anyone but me (in my pride) because this November will make four years I haven’t missed a day.
I know sometimes I run a series of old posts but y’all have just been subjected to that because of Hurricane Dorian. I didn’t want to do it again so soon.
And I don’t like just posting fluff. I want to honor the time you take to read what I send out.
But this time I think I’m tapping out.
All my kids and my husband participated in Tae Kwon Do for years.
I watched a lot of sparring matches, demonstrations, testings and practices. James Michael eventually rose to the rank of Second Degree Black Belt and Dominic was the youngest ever (at eight years old) to test for First Degree Black Belt in their particular school.
There’s a safety protocol for sparring in Tae Kwon Do. Even though no one is supposed to be overly aggressive when sparring, sometimes it gets a little out of hand. So if your opponent crosses the line and is actually hurting you, you tap the mat indicating that they need to stop-RIGHT NOW-before harm is done.
I was oh, so grateful for that safety protocol when trying to keep my seat in the bleachers as my little guys were tossed around. I knew that if someone was really hurting them, they had a way out.
I should have learned it then, but I’m a slow learner.
Everyone needs a safety protocol.
Everyone needs a safe word or a safe space or a safe friend so that when things pile high or heavy or both, they can make it plain thatIT HURTS!
I’ve managed to do the necessary today.
And like I’ve said before, the worst day of my life only lasted 24 hours.
Tomorrow is a new day, another sunrise, another chance for things to be a little easier, a little better, a little more bearable.
Who wants to air the good, the bad and the ugly for everyone else to see?
In today’s world where photo filters on our cellphone cameras can turn a pretty rotten picture into a magazine worthy masterpiece no one is anxious to be seen as less than polished and put together.
The pressure is on to pretend that all is well even when all is, well, going quite the other direction.
If you are trudging through a tough patch, let folks know.
You might be surprised by who reaches out saying, “That was me just a while ago. Would you like to know how I made it through?”
If you’ve already walked the long and lonely road of grief, loss, trauma, depression or other difficult circumstance-share your story!
Don’t sugar coat it. Don’t clean up the messy bits. Don’t gloss over the hard spots.
How can anyone learn to walk the hard roads, the rocky paths, the treacherous terrain of life unless someone else is willing to be a guide? And who can trust a guide that hasn’t also made that journey?
Tell it like it was.
Then tell it like it is.
Map the path from there to here.
Shine a light for a soul that thinks darkness is all there is.