Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

It will be five years in April since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve learned a few things since then.

letting-go

Time, by itself, heals nothing.  But time, plus the work grief requires, brings a measure of healing.  

If I cling with both hands to my loss, I can’t take hold of the good things life still has in store for me.  

Longing for the past all the time only brings sorrow.  I cannot turn back time.  Days, weeks, years will keep coming whether or not I choose to participate in them.  I will rob my heart of potential joy by focusing exclusively on the sorrow I can’t undo.

Daily choices add up.  When I lean into the small things required each day, I build confidence that I can do the bigger things that might still frighten me.  Making phone calls eventually helps me show up to a meeting or to church.  I strengthen my “can do” muscle every time I use it.

Doubt doesn’t disappear. Facing my doubt forces me to explore the edges of my faith.  It does no good for me to stuff questions in a drawer and hope they go away.  They won’t.  I have to drag them into the light and examine them.  Doubt is not denial.  If God is God (and I believe that He is!) then my puny queries don’t diminish His glory.  He knows I’m made of dust and He invites me to bring my heart to Him-questions and all.

My mental diet matters more than I might think.  I have to be very careful what I feed my mind.  If I focus on sadness, tragic stories, hateful speech and media that feeds my fears and despair then those feelings grow stronger.  If instead I focus on hopeful stories, good conversation with faithful friends and inspiring quotes, verses and articles I feed the part of my heart that helps me hold onto hope.

I need a space where I can be completely honest about what this journey is like.  Bereaved parents’ groups have been that space for me and have been an important component of my healing.  But even there I must be cautious about how much time I spend reading other parents’ stories if I notice that I’m absorbing too much pain and not enough encouragement.

me too sharing the path

Grief is hard.  

It’s work. 

And that work is made up of dozens of daily choices that are also often difficult.  

I don’t expect to be healed and whole this side of eternity.  But I do know that if I consistently do the work grief requires I will be stronger, more whole and better able to lean into the life I have left than if I don’t.

I want to live. 

I want to honor my son by living a life that’s more than just limping along, barely making it, struggling for each step.  

So I do the work grief asks of me.  

Even when it’s hard.  

give yourself space to do the work grief requires

 

Why Some Friends Abandon Grievers

Often a new year means taking stock of the previous twelve months and making adjustments for the next twelve. 

When I comb back through my memories I try to notice where I struggled and where I soared.  I want to learn from the things that worked and the things that didn’t.  And I almost always find relationships top the list of where I need to make changes.

Grief is tough on friendships.  

Not everyone can or will stick around while broken hearts work hard to put the pieces back together.

I miss some of the people I thought would still be here and, if I allow myself to do it, can invest too much of the precious and limited emotional energy I have left this side of child loss in being angry, bitter or just plain disappointed.

But that is unhelpful. 

So instead I began to think about WHY some friends abandon grievers.  

Here’s what I think:  Why Friends Abandon Grievers

Emotional Overload and T.M.I.

There are so many ways child loss impacts relationships!

Some of the people you think will stand beside you for the long haul either never show up or disappear right after the funeral.

Some people you never expected to hang around not only come running but choose to stay.

And every. single. relationship. gets more complicated.  

When your heart is shattered, there are lots of sharp edges that end up cutting you and everyone around you.  It’s pretty much inevitable that one or more relationships will need mending at some point.

I know I said (still say!) things that wound others.  Most of the time it’s because I’m distracted or hurting myself and my mouth begins speaking before my brain is fully engaged.  Sometimes, though, it’s because I’m in pain and (frankly!) I want to transfer some of that pain to someone else.

Misery DOES love company!

Often other people in my life will say or do things that wound me.  Some of the folks are part of my inner grief circle and I know that it’s unintentional or they are having a pain-filled day like I am.

A few are extended family members who are either blissfully unaware of the ongoing pain and drama of child loss or are too caught up in their own lives to give it a thought.

Some of them are friends who think by now I should have toughened up and are no longer willing to extend extra grace and try harder to be tender.

Sometimes it’s acquaintances or strangers who don’t have a clue.

Whenever someone pierces my armor and inflicts pain, I have a choice:  Do I suck it up and take it or do I say something and try to reconcile?

There are days when I feel strong enough to just overlook it.  But I know if it represents a pattern, sooner or later the pressure will build and I’m going to blow.  And that’s not good for either one of us.

couple fighting

There are days when I absolutely, positively have to address it.  That’s when I need to be careful of overloading another heart with too much information (TMI).  See, it’s easy to make one person the target for all my strong feelings.  It’s easy to do an emotional and informational “dump” on whoever happens to be handy or whoever is the least intimidating.

That’s unfair and unhelpful-for them and for me.  

So when I decide to open my mouth and address a specific situation with a specific person, I need to keep my margins clean and only say the things that pertain to THAT instance.  I can’t bring up every single thing the person has done in the past or things that they haven’t said or done but which have made me more sensitive to certain words or actions.  I don’t need to burden them with all the details of MY bad day or week or month.

Instead I should talk about my own feelings in relationship to them and their actions or words. 

“I feel like _________when you say________” gives vent to my emotion without accusing another heart.  I need to leave room for them to share what they were/are thinking and feeling too.  It can’t be one-way conversation if I hope to have a two-way relationship.  

i statments graphic

Any stressful life circumstance makes us all more vulnerable to offense.  And child loss is certainly stressful.  It’s stressful in ways others can’t see or comprehend.  It alters the way a parent sees and experiences the world.

It makes everything harder.  

Relationships included.  

I want to be full of love, grace and mercy, not overrun with bitterness, anger and offense. 

So I have to be mindful of what I say, how much I say and when I choose to say it.

young man thought bubble

Repost: No Way to “Fix” Child Loss

This was shared in a bereaved parents’ group to which I belong and I really like it.

It’s a great reminder to those of us traveling this road that it is a lifelong journey.

It’s also a good explanation of why there is a gap between our experience and those who have never experienced child loss.

Read the rest here:  No Way to “Fix” Child Loss

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.

 

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

Child Loss DOES Define Me

It’s popular in books, self-help articles and even in some grief groups for people to declare , “Child loss does not (will not, should not) define me”.

And while I will defend to the end another parent’s right to walk this path however seems best and most healing to him or her,  to that statement I say, “Bah! Humbug!”

Child loss DOES define me.

It defines me in the same way that motherhood and marriage define me.  It defines me as much as any other major milestone, event, choice or experience defines me.

How could it not define me and inform the person I am today?

But it does NOT circumscribe me.

Listen carefully to these next words: Child loss is a huge part of who I am but it does not draw a circle around who I am becoming.  It is not a line in the sand I cannot cross.  It is not a ball and chain weighing me down and preventing my forward motion.

It is not the ONLY thing I am, but it is an important part of who I am.

In many ways it has made life harder-especially in the first three years after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  But in other ways it has made my life more open, larger, expansive and inclusive.  Child loss has opened my eyes to other hurting hearts in ways I doubt I would have noticed if my own had not been broken.  Child loss has taught me the language of compassion and the necessity of listening well to other people.  Child loss has rearranged my schedule and my priorities.

priorities

It most certainly helps to define the woman I am today.

Would I have chosen it?  Absolutely not!

But I won’t waste it.

I choose to enfold it into who I am and what I do and how I live.

I cannot set it aside and ignore it any more than I could set aside my son.

Could you?

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete