Repost: I Don’t Want To Remember My Son

I don’t want to remember my son. 

I want to make memories with him.  

I want him to watch me grow old, to watch him get married and have children and to hear his voice mingled with his siblings at my table.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/04/02/i-dont-want-to-remember-my-son/

Welcome To My World

Many of you are waking up each day and facing a world you don’t recognize.

I’ve been doing this for over half a decade.

Almost six years ago my family’s world was shaken in much the same way everyone’s world is being shaken today.

It was precisely as disruptive, unthinkable, even more tragic and there was not one thing we could do to change it except live through it.

Image may contain: outdoor, possible text that says '"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring Pellowe TALK'

I know thousands of bereaved parents and surviving siblings who have learned to live in the time they are given.

If you want to know how to face this crisis with courage, ask them. 

It's Only Natural

Whether surrounded by friends or strangers, I sift through the words threatening to fly out of my mouth very carefully.

Like most of us, there’s a script in my head that doesn’t always bear sharing.

But unlike many, part of my script involves a child that lives in Heaven.

And I’m constantly weighing whether or not I should mention him even though the conversation leads my heart to a memory I very much want to speak aloud.  It often makes others uncomfortable, awkward and upset when I do.  So sometimes I just don’t.

I hate that I edit myself like that.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/03/24/only-natural/

Forest of Sorrow

There are so many ways to describe grief.

So many ways individual hearts walk this path.

For many of us there’s a sense of being locked in time, stuck in space, unable to leave the moment one received the news or the few days before and after.

It’s maddening that the earth still turns, the sun still rises and people go on with life when in so many ways our world is frozen in place.

Elizabeth Gilbert describes deep grief as a “coordinate on the map of time” and a “forest of sorrow”.

I like that.

Child loss is a place no parent wants to go. I found myself in territory so unfamiliar there was no way to get my bearings.

Left alone, I faltered, would have stayed lost, was doomed to walk in circles trying to find my way out.

I desperately needed a guide.

Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Thankfully some parents, further along in this awful journey, created safe spaces for broken hearts to gather and to share.

I am oh, so grateful to them for that!

Not everyone who finds the way to hope and light chooses to come back for those still wandering in the forest of sorrow.

But some do.

They retrace painful steps carrying a torch and say, “Come with me. I can show you the way to hope.”

What, Exactly, IS “Grief Work”?

I have used the term for years and only recently has someone asked me to define it.

I guess I never realized that in all the writing about it, I’d never really explained what it meant.

So here goes.

The term was coined by psychiatrist Erich Lindemann in the 1940s. He worked with survivors of the Cocoanut Grove tragedy and observed that grievers experienced common symptoms, feelings and faced similar challenges. Through his work, he developed a theory of grief incorporating his observations and his technique for walking grievers through these common issues.

Image result for six stages of grief erich lindeman

Today the term has been expanded and is used widely to describe almost any approach to grief that includes specific techniques for helping someone walk the path of loss.

I use “grief work” to mean all the ways I (and others) must actively seek to identify, face, process, and ultimately incorporate the feelings, trauma and changes loss force upon us.

Grief work (in no particular order) can include but is not limited to:

  • Attending sessions with a professional, spiritual or lay counselor. Some people find it helpful to have a safe person outside the immediate grief circle to discuss feelings, concerns and relationship challenges that are generated by loss or exacerbated by loss. It’s best to find a counselor who specializes in grief, preferably child loss and/or traumatic loss (all child loss can be classed as traumatic loss). Other counselors may be too quick to label a bereaved parent’s grief as “abnormal” or “too lengthy” or “complicated” when it is, in fact, closely following observed timelines for dealing with child loss. If the first counselor you find isn’t a fit, try another. It’s OK to insist that you are heard, your feelings respected and your loss recognized for the life-shattering event that it is.
  • Finding, joining and participating in online or in person support groups. There are literally dozens of online support groups for bereaved parents. Some are designed to meet the needs surrounding specific types of loss such as sudden death, suicide, drug overdoses or loss to cancer or another disease or condition. Some are organized around certain faiths. Others may be rooted in geographic proximity and the online group might have a monthly or quarterly face-to-face meeting in the area. While it can sometimes be overwhelming to see the number of parents in such a group, it’s also extremely helpful to have a safe space to share things only another bereaved parent can understand.
  • Setting aside quiet time to think, process and possibly journal feelings. So much grief work must be done alone. Counselors can equip me with tools, support groups can give me real-life examples and encouragement but only I can do the nitty-gritty labor of teasing apart all the feelings and change grief brings with it. Journaling has been very helpful for me in putting words to what can sometimes be rather nebulous thoughts swirling around in my head. When I name what I’m feeling or experiencing, I can better construct a strategy for processing and living with it.
  • Walking back through memories, noting regrets, forgiving yourself and making peace with the past. We ALL have things we would have done differently. Death, being final, forces a heart to face that there is no chance to atone for past behavior. Words unsaid, things undone, opportunities missed are carved in the stone of yesterday. I spent many nights recounting my shortcomings as a mother, berating myself for what I didn’t do. Eventually I was able to rest on the simple fact that one thing I DID do was make sure Dominic knew he was loved.
  • Setting boundaries to give yourself and your family space and time to do grief work as well as to conserve emotional, relational and physical energy that’s in limited supply after child loss. So many of us live with few or no boundaries-responding to every request with a “yes”, adding things to the calendar without a thought to how exhausted we might be at the end of a day or week. Some of us are overtaxed at work or school. Some of us are hyper-involved in our churches, civic organizations or local politics. There are dozens of ways to be extended and just as many ways to live with that constant drain. Child loss forced me to recognize that I could no longer BE that person. I couldn’t afford the time, energy, mental space and emotional burden of saying “yes” anymore. I learned that “NO” is a complete sentence and began using it.
  • Practical considerations regarding your child’s belongings and other personal property. Many people might not consider this part of grief but it is. So many details to take care of, so many times I had to repeat the words, “My son was killed in an accident. I need to close this account.” So many copies of his death certificate mailed out to different agencies or companies, documenting the awful reality that he was never coming home again. Then there are questions of what to keep, what to store, what to give away. Should a room remain untouched if your child still lived at home? We had to clean out Dominic’s apartment only a few days after his funeral. It felt like I was boxing up everything beautiful about my boy.
  • Learning how to do holidays, birthdays, family gatherings, vacations and other gatherings. The empty chair looms larger when all the others are filled. If you have been the primary organizer of such events, it might surprise you to find the rest of the family still expecting you to be that person. Even if you aren’t the host for holidays, you will need to communicate to others if or how you feel comfortable participating.
  • Maintaining or regaining health after loss. Stress is one of the greatest contributors to so many health issues. Child loss is an unbelievably stressful experience. So it’s no wonder that many parents find themselves post loss with new or aggravated health problems. I had an appointment with my rheumatologist just one month after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. It was critical that I tell her of my loss because in addition to whatever medical interventions she was prepared to prescribe, she needed to know I would be experiencing an extended period of intense stress that might necessitate closer observation and follow-up. As difficult as it may be to talk about, it’s important to inform your healthcare providers of your loss and to be absolutely honest about changes you’ve noticed in your body as a result.

There are probably a dozen or more subcategories of grief work I could list and some of you might think of ones I wouldn’t.

Grief IS work.

It is important, necessary and exhausting WORK.

It requires time, resources, effort and energy and cannot be hurried along.

But it is the only way a heart can begin to put the pieces back together.

Grief-So What’s Normal???

I just came home a couple days ago from a weekend retreat for bereaved moms and was reminded again that the range of “normal” in grief-especially child loss-is so very wide.

Still crying after a decade? Absolutely normal.

Trouble getting dinner on the table or remembering your child’s school schedule? Yep. That’s normal.

Struggling with crowds, back-peddling on commitments, feeling trapped by phone conversations, shopping when you are least likely to run into someone you know? Perfectly normal.

Our losses ranged from very recent to decades old and all of us admitted our behavior, our feelings, our ability to handle change, nearly every aspect of our lives was impacted by the death of our child.

So if you are wondering if your expression of grief is normal, it is.

Our lives were shattered.

Our hearts were broken.

Picking up the pieces, whatever that looks like, is absolutely, positively normal.

Grief Triggers: Why Does Coffee Make Me Cry?

Oh, the early days, weeks and even years of grief!

I was a giant walking nerve.

Every sight, sound, smell or even touch that reminded me of Dominic evoked a wave of sorrow that almost always ended in tears.

I cried in the grocery store, walking past Bath and Body Works in the mall, driving down the road when certain songs came on the radio, tidying up drawers and finding a long lost and forgotten something that Dominic tucked away for later.

Sometimes I just wanted to scream, “Don’t you know my son’s not here??!!”

But of course I couldn’t do that and walk around in society.

So the triggers were an outlet for that pent up energy, angst and sadness.

It was awful.

Especially when what I set out to do was something I really needed to do. I’d leave the house with a list of places to go, things to buy and people to see but often return having done only a fraction of it.

I’m better at it now.

I’ve grown stronger and am more skilled at carrying the burden of the disconnect between my heart and other hearts who haven’t experienced deep pain and loss.

I’ve learned how to fix my eyes on some distant point if cornered by a well-meaning friend asking how I am but not really wanting to hear about how Dominic’s death continues to impact our family.

I press my fingers together hard in an attempt to stop the sorrow rising up and threatening to undo me until I can escape to the bathroom, a quiet corner or my car.

And I’ve learned not to be ashamed of the tears that fill my eyes and slip down my cheek despite all my best efforts no matter where I am.