Feeling Our Way in the Dark

Often this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is dark and lonely.  

man in woods with glowing light

I am frightened of what may lay in wait-tragedy has visited once, it could come again.

I know Jesus is my Shepherd and I never doubt His companionship.  But if I’m honest, as much as I lean into that truth, it’s oh, so helpful to have a living, breathing human being walk with me.

So when a friend reaches out and takes my trembling hand it calls courage to my heart.

When we huddle together in the dark places, waiting out the storm of grief or doubt, it gives me strength to carry on.

Never, never underestimate the power of presence.

For now we see in a glass darkly, but then face to face, and now we know in part, but then we shall know fully just as we have been fully known

I Corinthians 13:12

So until then, what?
We feel our way in the dark.
Until we find each other.
We huddle together in the storm.
Wet and shivering, but together.
And maybe in the end it will be our huddling in the storm that gives us more comfort than our understanding of the storm.”

~Ken Gire, The Weathering Grace of God

 

me too sharing the path

Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

“Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?  How do you take into account the circumstances of a death, the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, trauma surrounding the event or any of a dozen other things that influence how long and how deeply one grieves a loss?

Obviously there are certain signs that someone needs professional help, medication or intervention.  If a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, acting out in ways that harm or threaten harm to themselves or others, or is experiencing depression or uncontrollable anxiety then please, please, PLEASE get them to a doctor who can diagnose and treat them.

But for the rest of us, “normal” grief covers a wide variety of behaviors, feelings, attitudes and timelines:

Posting photos or videos of our missing child is normal.  It’s the last visual link we have to someone we can no longer see.

Mentioning my son in conversation is normal.  I mention my other children and his life is still intertwined with ours.

Crying-even years or decades after the loss-is NORMAL  Grief waves can hit with tsunami force from out of nowhere and slam me to the ground. The only thing I can do then is let them wash over and around me until they pass.

Keeping space for my son in my home, at my table, in my heart and on holidays is normal.  Some parents do this with a special candle, photo or ritual. Some do it with a stuffed animal or other item that represents their child. Some do it with words or deeds of kindness done in honor of the missing one.  No one has sat in Dominic’s space at my table in these three years.  It’s my silent witness to his ongoing influence and irreplaceable presence in our family circle.

Keeping a room exactly as it was is normal.  Boxing everything up is also normal.  Every heart is different and every heart has to decide what helps it heal.

Sleeplessness is normal.  Some parents never return to pre-loss sleep patterns.  I wake every morning at about the time the deputy came to our door.  Every now and then, if I am extremely tired, I may fall back asleep for an hour or two.  Sleeping the day away is normal, too.  Sleep may be a welcome relief to a weary heart and some parents find that when they can, they sleep a lot.  (Note:  if this continues for days or weeks, please check with your doctor about the possibility of depression.)

Anxiety is, sadly, VERY normal.  The worst has actually happened and that makes the possibility that it could happen again oh, so real.  Anxiety may well spread to things that seem to have no relationship to loss.  It’s also normal to have a “devil may care” attitude. The worst has actually happened, so what could be worse?  Might as well live life to the full.

Withdrawal is normal.  So is over-scheduling and staying busy.  Both are ways someone may try to deal with heartbreak.

You don’t have to be “stuck” in grief to still feel the pain and have it continue to affect your life.

I am and have been highly functional since the morning the deputy arrived with the news of my son’s fatal motorcycle accident.

But I am a very different “me” than I was before that doorbell rang.

Some things I can’t do anymore. Some things I do differently and some things are brand new and I have only done them since he left us.

Labels are rarely helpful when applied to people.

Every person is unique, every relationship unique and every situation unique.

And every grief journey will be unique as well.

roller coaster 2 better image

 

 

 

Repost: Dealing With Anxious Thoughts

As a follow up to the repost a couple days ago:  Why is Anxiety Part of Child Loss?, I wanted to share this entry.

Here are some practical ways to deal with anxious thoughts, take them captive or redirect my focus so that they don’t rule my heart.

Please feel free to add any helpful tips in the comments section below.  We learn best from those that share our journey.  You may have the very words that will encourage another parent’s broken heart!

I no longer have to imagine the worst thing that could happen in the life of a mother-I know exactly how it feels. 

And if I allow my heart to ponder that too often or too long, it consumes me.

So I am learning to take those anxious thoughts captive, learning to make them live in only a small corner of my mind instead of taking it over completely.

It takes effort and discipline, but it’s possible.  

I don’t have to live the rest of my days a quivering mess-

Read the rest here:  Dealing With Anxious Thoughts

Repost: Why is Anxiety Part of Child Loss?

It surprised me when I felt anxious after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Not that the doorbell startled me, or that passing the place of the accident was hard nor that hearing motorcycles made my skin crawl.

But that every single day for many, many months anxiety crept up my backbone and made a knot in my neck.

It surprised me that I felt like I was literally going to explode.

Read the rest here:  Why is Anxiety Part of Child Loss?

Yes, I AM a Cat Lady

I confess:  I AM a cat lady.

Not the one with the dozens living in the house and stinking up the place but the one who relies on her furry pal to get her through hard days.

I raised Roosevelt from the day he was born.  

His mom was a sickly outdoor cat that had never made it through a successful pregnancy and was not a candidate for being spayed because she wouldn’t have survived the anesthesia.

So the day I heard a tiny “mew” outside my window I hardly expected the sight I beheld. Here was mama kitty utterly amazed that she had birthed a baby, walking off the edge of the porch with a tiny black something still attached by the umbilical cord.

She could have cared less.

I grabbed scissors and a towel and rescued the little darling without much hope of his surviving.

But he did.

That was seven hospitalizations, two surgeries and one giant heartache ago.

He has become my comfort companion, my purring pal, the one who knows before I do that my RA is flaring, my heart breaking.

I am thankful for this oasis of comfort in a desert of hurt.

I am thankful that the God Who made me also made animals to bring healing in the midst of heartache.  Oh, so thankful for a husband that puts up with my crazy “save everything that breathes” personality and doesn’t mind if a cat sneaks up the side of the bed in the middle of the night to get cozy in the covers..

When Dominic died, I remember sitting in my chair as the parade of sweet friends and family came over to cry with us.  Roosevelt sat with me the entire time.  His warm body reminded me that I was still here even when my limbs seemed to float away into the ether and my mind wasn’t entirely certain that what I saw or heard was real.

I have learned to count my blessings.

And while the majority of them walk on two legs, at least one has four.

 

 

 

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My Choices Reflect My Focus

My daughter is a quote collector like her mama.  

Here’s the one she has taped to her dashboard:  

choices-reflect-rainbow

That is challenging for me.

When the one thing happens you think will never happen, well, that opens a whole chest full of fears you thought you’d locked inside.

But when I wake up I get to choose:  will I give in or fight back?

I’m learning that while I can’t stop the thoughts that fly around in my brain I can choose which ones I invite to make a nest there.

When fear threatens to undo me, I resist.  

I refuse to react to what MAY happen.  I choose to hold onto what IS happening, right now.

Truth is, either way, I have no control over the future.

I will not lose today because of what tomorrow might bring.

corrie-ten-boom-empties-today-of-strength

 

 

 

What to say? What to do? Loving the Grieving in Public Places

 

Last week I wrote about some strategies I employ when in a social situation: Surviving Social Situations After Child Loss

But if you are the friend, family member or acquaintance milling around who bumps into me or spies me across the room, here are some things you can do and say that will help me as well:

Be aware that the greeting, “How are you?” sometimes feels like a challenge instead of an invitation. I’m scrambling for words to express my true condition without ruining the mood of the gathering.  It would be so much better if you simply said, “Hello” or “I’m happy to see you” without additional comments about how long it’s been.

Don’t pose or push for answers to questions that are primarily designed to satisfy your own curiosity.  If I give a brief reply, take the hint and move on.  If I say I can’t talk about it, drop the subject.  If I turn the conversation back to you, pick it up and carry the ball.  Public spaces are not the place to try to draw me out.  If you are concerned about me or want to REALLY know how I’m doing, take me to lunch or bring me dinner or invite me out for coffee.

questions

Notice my body language.  If I am fidgeting or hugging myself or backing away or crossing my arms it’s time to let me go.  I may hold my tongue but my body will give you abundant clues that I’m nearly at my limit for social interaction.  Give me permission to end the conversation and preserve my dignity.

Hugs are almost always wonderful.  Physical touch conveys love and compassion without requiring any response.  If you know me well enough to hug me or squeeze my hand, please do.

brene-brown-on-empathy-image

Don’t corner me-physically, emotionally or spiritually.  Backing me into a tight space makes me feel trapped.  If I’m on the end of a pew or aisle, don’t ask me to scoot down so you can join me.  I’m there in case I need to make an exit.  Don’t stand too close to me while we’re talking-my need for adequate personal space has greatly increased since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  Don’t throw Bible verses at me or ask me how Jesus is meeting me in my sorrow.  These are things we can talk about together, in private, in a way that makes space for me to be honest and express emotion without fear of embarresment.

Don’t make comparisons between my missing child and person featured in the wedding, baby shower or engagement party we are attending. Trust me, I’ve already done the math. I already know the distance between Dominic’s homegoing and this day.  I am already mourning one more thing I’ll never get to see him do.

cant-understand

Please don’t use this time to tell me about another bereaved mother you “just want to introduce to me”.  I am open and willing to walk with others on this journey, but this is not the time nor the place to put me on the spot.  If you know of another mom that needs my help, write me a note, give me a call or text me.

If I leave a room, don’t follow (unless you are a very close friend).  Let me go.  I will return if I can and if I can’t, I won’t.  Text me if you’re concerned.  If I come back, let me slip in without any fanfare.

If I cry, hand me a tissue or a handkerchief.  Don’t ask, “What’s wrong?” Besides the obvious, I may not have an answer for you.

woman-mourning

Please help me move conversation along when I lose my train of thought or seem at a loss for words.  Grief makes it hard to think sometimes, especially when in a crowd and/or a place with lots of background noise.  Give me permission to end a conversation-it probably doesn’t have a thing to do with YOU-I’m just running out of steam and need a few minutes’ respite from having to talk.  

Attending social events is exhausting for me now.  I want to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations-but that means a lot of people and a lot of unknowns.  Dozens of potential triggers, any one of which might conjure a grief wave that can drown me.  

I do what I can to be prepared. 

But I’ll take all the help I can get.

best-way-you-can-help-me