Anxiety After Child Loss Is Real

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I would not have described myself as “anxious”.

Of course I had my moments, but anxiety ,panic or worry was not really something I experienced on a regular basis.  

That’s changed.  

Now I sometimes have to close my eyes when a family member is driving in traffic.   I clench my fists when in a crowd.  I can’t concentrate if too many people are talking at once and I cannot navigate unfamiliar roads while the radio is blaring.

Dominic’s sudden death destroyed my sense of safety and control. 

If my son could be healthy and alive one moment and dead the next, anything could happen.  

It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not, the anxiety I experience is very real and often debilitating.

What makes it worse is when friends and family minimize my feelings, mock my fear or dismiss it as foolish and stupid.

What helps is when friends and family choose to acknowledge my feelings and commit to compassionate companionship while I work through them.

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Fear Of What You Know

Last week was a roller coaster.

My first grandchild-a boy-was born prematurely on Saturday after several days of heart stopping, breath robbing drama as his mama went back and forth to the hospital three times in as many days.

My son, his father, is deployed overseas and paddling as fast as he can to get home.

james and lillie

I am twelve hours away and leaving early this morning to go down and do whatever I can to help.  My daughter-in-law’s mother is there and I’m not offended to believe she will be better suited to help her daughter than I am.

But I’ll stay for a bit just to be an extra pair of hands.

I’m sure anyone who gets the news that mama and baby are in trouble is frightened.  It doesn’t take much for a heart to fear the worst.

But for someone who knows exactly what the worst feels like, there’s a whole other level to this terror.

Fear of what you don’t know can’t hold a candle to fear of what you know by experience.

I spent Saturday in anxious prayer, begging God for grace and mercy.  I had no idea how much it took out of me until after I heard baby and mama were doing well and the sun went down.  Exhaustion swept over me like a heavy blanket and it was all I could do to make it upstairs and crawl in bed.

I am beyond thankful that this story has a hopeful ending.  The little tyke only weighs two pounds but appears to be a fighter.  

It will be a long, hard climb for him to mature enough to leave the hospital.  There will be challenges along the way.

But his mama is on the road to recovery and his daddy is on the road (flight!) home.

I’ll spend some of the time driving down finishing the baby blanket I was making before he made his early appearance.

Every stitch is a prayer.  

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  

But I’m thankful today is a good day.  

I’m a grandma! ❤

all wise and prehistoric

 

Child Loss and Secondary Losses

While I certainly had no real idea in the first hours or even weeks what losing a child entailed, I understood plainly that it meant I would not have Dominic to see, hold or talk to.

I wouldn’t be able to hug his neck or telephone him.  

He wouldn’t be sitting at my table any more.

But the death of a child or other loved one has a ripple effect.  It impacts parts of life you might not expect.  As time went on, I was introduced to a whole list of losses commonly called “secondary losses”.

secondary losses

Here are just a few:

Loss of a large chunk of “self”.  Dominic possessed part of my heart and part of my life.  It was violently ripped away when he died.  There is part of me that was uniquely reflected from him-like a specialty mirror.  I can never access that part of me again.

Loss of identity.  Before Dominic died I was one kind of mother.  I was a mother of four living children who were making their way in the world as successful adults.  I was a mother looking forward with happy anticipation to the next years.  Now I am still a mother of four children but one whose heart has been changed by tragedy and sorrow. Tomorrow is still bright, but there’s a shadow just behind it.

desimones uab family

Loss of self-confidence.  I used to enter a room without a thought to how I’d be received or perceived.  That’s definitely not the case now.  I’m self-conscious-constantly wondering if I’m saying or doing the right thing.  I never know if a grief trigger will (at best) pull my attention away from conversation or (at worst) send me scurrying for the bathroom.

Loss of sense of security.  I think every parent has moments of fear over his or her child.  When they first go off someplace without us, when they get a driver’s license, travel abroad, go to college.  But all the awful things I imagined didn’t hold a candle to the reality of waking one morning to a knock on my door and the news that Dominic had been killed.  The bottom fell out of my (relatively) safe world.  Bad things, random things can and do happen.  Once it happened to ME, it changed how I processed everything.  The passing years have softened some of the anxiety but I will never be able to assume safety again.

Anxiety

Loss of faith.  I did not “lose” my faith.  I never once doubted that God was still working, was still loving and was still in control.  But I most certainly had to drag out every single thing I thought I knew about how I thought He worked, loved and superintended the world and examine it in light of my experience of burying my son.  It took a long time to work through all the pat answers I had been offered and myself doled out to others for years that didn’t fit with my new reality.  I am learning that doubt is not denial and that I have to live with unanswered questions.

Loss of family structure.  I’ve written before that a family is more than the arithmetic total of the number of members.  There were six of us.  But we were so much more than six when we were all together!  Our talents, personalities and energy were amplified in community.  When Dominic’s large presence was suddenly whisked away, every relationship got skewed.  We’ve fought our way back to a semblance of “whole” but still miss him terribly.  We can function, but we will never be the same.

empty chair

Loss of my past.  Memories are funny things.  They are plastic and subject to change.  And my recall of an event is limited to my own perspective.  For a memory to be rich and full, I need input from others who were there as well.  One vessel of family memories is no longer available to add his unique contribution.  Every time I pull out a photo or dig down deep in my heart to draw up a treasured moment, I realize I’ve lost something I can not recover.  The joke, the glance, the odd detail are all gone.

Loss of the future I anticipated.  I’m a planner by nature.  Not a detailed, OCD, got-everything-in-order kind of planner, but a “big picture” kind of planner.  When Dominic left us in 2014, things were going (pretty much) according to plan.  Each child was well on his or her way to the career path they had chosen.  I was easing into an empty nest and exploring options for life after homeschooling.  My husband was entering his last few years of a lengthy career.  It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but when your world is shaken by child loss, everything gets scrambled.  You can’t just pick up where you left off and keep going with the pieces that remain. 

There’s a prolonged period of confusion and everyone is impacted differently and in ways you could never imagine.  All of us have changed dramatically in the years since Dominic left us.  He is not the only thing missing from the rest of our lives.  Holidays are altered.  Birthdays are different.  We have to plan special events around uncomfortable milestone dates that roll around every year whether we want them to or not.  It’s a constant readjustment to life as it IS instead of life as I thought it WOULD be.

Loss of ability to focus and function.  Oh, how this surprised me!  I was in some kind of zone for the first month after Dominic left.  My other children were home, we had to make it through planning his funeral, two graduations and cleaning out his apartment.  I also had to handle paperwork for my husband to take short-term disability due to grief.  I cried a lot, wrote down dozens of notes but managed to do what I had to do.  Then I crashed. I couldn’t remember a thing.  I couldn’t read more than a couple sentences at a time.  I hated the telephone.  I could barely stand to hear the television.  I had to make a list of the most basic things like brushing my teeth, feeding my animals, turning off all the lights before bed.  It was awful!  And it didn’t really get better for well over a year.

I still suffer from a very short attention span, low tolerance for noise and an inability to accommodate last minute changes.  I don’t schedule anything back to back.  I live in a rural area and sometimes shop in the nearby town.  I will start the day with a long list and shorten it repeatedly as I go along because driving in traffic, crowds and random sounds ramp up my anxiety and make me want to go home with or without what I came for.  I have changed the way I do so many things.  My pre-loss memory has never returned.  

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Loss of patience.  I am at once impatient and long-suffering.  I have zero patience for petty grievances, whining and complaining.  Yet I have compassion for other people living hard and unhappy stories.  I berate myself for not being “better” and, at the same time, extend grace to others who aren’t “better” either.  I want to shake people who bowl over weak, hurting, desperate souls.   I don’t have time for moaning about rain when you were planning a picnic but will listen for hours to a mama tell me about her missing child.

Loss of health.  I had a number of chronic health conditions before Dominic ran ahead.  Within the first year of his departure, I was hospitalized twice.  My experience is not unique.  Some parents suffer immediate health effects (heart attack, blood sugar spikes, anxiety/depression) and some see a slow decline over time.  In part because child loss, like any stressor, will negatively impact health and also because sometimes bereaved parents stop doing the things that help them stay healthy.  At almost five years, I’ve learned how to manage the stress better although some of my health issues continue to get worse.  It’s hard to tease apart what is age, what is disease and what is grief.

When your child leaves this life before you do, it changes everything.  

Not only things you might expect, but many you’d never imagine.  

It’s a constant balancing act, readjusting every day to new challenges.  

Struggling to keep my head above the waves.  

grief like the ocean learn to swim

 

 

When Your First Thought Is, “Oh No, Not Again!”

Last night I woke to my youngest son’s ringtone at nearly midnight.

I missed the call but when I looked, realized it was the third time he’d tried.  

My heart skipped several beats as I dialed him back only to have it go directly to voicemail.  I tried again and a second later, he answered.

“What’s wrong??!!!”

(Because he never calls me late at night unless something is wrong!)

Julian was downstairs at the front door and needed me to let him in because he’d received some odd texts from his dad- a series of random letters and emojis scrolled across his screen.

He’d tried to call him.  No answer. 

Tried texting him back.  No message except more of the same random letters and images.  

So he drove over from his house just a few miles away, the whole time running a dozen scenarios through his head.

  • “Is dad having a stroke? Mom is asleep upstairs and won’t know.”
  • “Is someone in the house and dad’s only able to randomly swipe his thumb on the screen trying to ask for help?”
  • “Why won’t mom answer her phone?  Do they have her too?”

Five miles and ten minutes is a lifetime when all you can think of is another family member needing help- or worse.  

As I was coming downstairs to let Julian inside, my husband woke up and asked me what was wrong.  We got to the door at the same moment and let our big, burly bear of a son inside.

It took him a split second to realize that all was well and then it poured outthe fear, the panic, the intense self-control necessary not to simply break down the door and barge in, the pent up grief that lives inside each one of us since Dominic left and is always about to spill out and over when we think of another loss.  

He melted into his dad’s arms.  

This is how our hearts are wired since that morning nearly five years ago. 

When the thing you never think will happen, happens, it becomes the first thing you think of when you can’t get in touch with someone. 

Panic is always a breath away.  

family never gets over the death of a loved one

 

Here’s The Post I’ve Wanted To Write But Couldn’t Before Today

My husband was sued for discrimination by a disgruntled employee. The whole thing started heating up just after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven in 2014.  The suit was filed just before Christmas 2015.

We’ve been living with this awful thing hanging over our heads for nearly 3 years.  Thankfully, the truth prevailed and my husband was exonerated.

But it took a huge toll on both of us and on our whole family.

I sat in a courtroom a few days ago feeling nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

I was waiting for a verdict that had the potential to change the rest of my life but I could not muster a single feeling.

Because when you’ve watched your child’s body lowered beneath the ground, there’s really not much else the world can do to you.

I stared straight ahead as the jury walked in.  I didn’t dare hope that they had found in our favor.  I’ve learned that hoping for the best sometimes only hurts a heart worse in the end.  Better to expect absolutely nothing and then if you get a tiny something, it feels huge.

In agonizing slow motion, the long verdict form was read.

The first question offered a sliver of hope.

But we had to wait thirty more minutes for the hope to be confirmed.

It was oh, so slow and very frustrating as the jury was polled, mistakes in counting were made, recounts were required but finally the numbers were recorded and everything was squared away.

Now on to the individual verdict form.  Was my husband going to be held accountable for something he simply did not do?  Was there still a shred of justice in this world?  Could 12 strangers sift through three weeks of complex and often conflicting testimony and get down to the truth?

Yes!

They could and they did!

We both let out the breath we’d been holding and managed a tiny smile.

Twenty-one days in court, nearly three years with this lawsuit dangling like Damocles’ sword over our heads-over in the short minutes it took to read the verdict.

This trial has cost me more tears than I thought I had left.

Every legal pad pulled out of leather brief cases was a reminder that Dominic should be here with us, guiding us, reassuring us that he was on our side and no matter how things turned out there would be ways to make it right.

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I cannot adequately express the toll this season has taken on my soul.  

But I am overjoyed that the Lord saw fit to reach down and assure the victory.  

If you see me on the street I might look a little dazed.  It’s hard to accept something good has happened when all you’ve come to expect is something bad.  So it may take me a few days to grow into an expression that reflects the beauty of the gift.

Bear with me. 

I am so, so thankful.

Thankful for every prayer raised, for every encouraging text, message, email and card.

And thankful most of all for the absolute assurance that no matter what I may face in this life, not only is God with me, but you are with me as well. 

It’s easy to be courageous when there are so many faithful friends standing behind you.  

Thank you.  ❤

when anxiety was strong

When Self-Control Is In Short Supply

Have you ever tried to squeeze into too-small jeans, managed to get them over your hips, sucked in and zipped up only to realize that all that extra “you” is now spilling out over the top of the waistband?  

toddler squeezing into jeans

Sometimes that’s how life after loss feels.  

Too much emotion, too much baggage, too much EVERYTHING that has to fit inside a very narrow set of other people’s expectations and tolerance for self-expression.

I find that I CAN squeeze my words and actions into that skinny space-for awhile.  

But then sure as anything, the real me pops out the top and there I am-exposed to the world- warts and all.  

I’ve discovered that self-control is not a limitless commodity.  

Now before my Bible believing friends remind me that it is part of the fruit of the Spirit, I want to say this:  it sure is!  And because the Spirit of Jesus lives inside me I can promise you I am more self-controlled than I would otherwise be.

BUT…

When every single word, action, thought and feeling has to be reined in every waking moment, there is not enough self-control this side of heaven to do THAT!

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So I find that some days I just need to stay away from people.  Because if I don’t, I’m going to be ugly.

And other days I can do people but I can’t control my eating.

Still other days I can do people and count calories but memories leak out of my eyes and I blubber my way through until darkness brings sleep and relief.

There is just so much inside me now. 

So much that really can’t be laid bare or it would scare everyone else half to death.  

So I keep trying to squeeze myself into the constraints that make me fit for company.  

But beware- I might pop out any minute.  ❤

 

pain behind every tear

Repost: Fault Lines: Bereaved Parents and Social Anxiety

Even at four years into this journey, I can surprise myself when, for no apparent reason, grief explodes from someplace deep within me.  

I’m keyed into triggers-sights, smells, places and people that remind me of Dominic.

But sometimes I can’t figure out what causes the tears to fall or my stomach to be tied in knots.  

It seems to happen most often when I’m in social situations.  I feel surrounded, trapped and anxiety mounts. 

I’m no geologist, but from what I understand, earthquakes are nearly always “about to happen”.  Fault lines guarantee it.  Pressure is building underneath the surface of the earth and when it reaches a level that can no longer be contained, it spews.

Can I just let you in on a secret?

Bereaved parents are full of fault lines.

Many of us are nearly ready to blow almost every single minute, yet hold it in and hold it together.  If you could put a meter to our temple and measure how close we are to a come apart, you would be amazed that it happens so rarely!

Read the rest here:  Fault Lines: Bereaved Parents and Social Anxiety