February 2020 Retreat For Bereaved Moms

Retreats are not for everyone.

In fact, I’ve never been the retreat kind of gal myself.

But I’ve changed my mind about one very different type of retreat that has both encouraged my heart and led to deep and lasting friendships with other women who know the pain of child loss.

Since February, 2018 I’ve had the privilege to be part of two unique, intimate and life-giving retreats for bereaved moms.

This February (21-23) will be the third.

This time we are focusing on God’s promises to redeem our pain, to restore our hearts and to weave the broken threads of our lives into a beautiful tapestry that testifies to hope, grace and the faithful love of our faithful Father.

He binds their wounds, heals the sorrows of their hearts.

Psalm 147:2 VOICE

Hope Lee, a fellow mom-in-loss, provides the wonderful facility (a cozy but spacious camp house in the Mississippi countryside) and I facilitate interactive sessions filled with Bible study, sharing and encouragement.

There is plenty of time to just visit, lots of great food and we usually do a fun craft or other slightly zany activity.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet other moms whose experience may help you in your journey.  It will definitely be a safe space to let your hair down and take your mask off. 

I have left each weekend with renewed energy, hope and courage for this often tiresome and lonely road.

Depending where you are in this journey the thought of a weekend away with other bereaved moms may be either terrifying or exciting.

But may I encourage you-whether terrified or excited-to listen to the Spirit?  If He is pushing you to step out in faith, do it.

I promise you won’t regret it!  

Spaces are limited so call or text Hope at 662-574-8445 today and reserve your spot.

Do You Wonder If 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?

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/12/will-it-ever-get-better/

TobyMac, "21 Years" and Child Loss

I am always devastated when another parent discovers the heartache of child loss.

They are forced to join a club no one wants to join.

But I’m grateful when that parent has a platform because of fame, fortune or circumstances and decides to draw attention to the truth of this painful path.

The singer Toby Mac recently lost his son and has chosen to do just that. He wrote a song that puts words to the sorrow, words to the struggle and vividly shares the heart of a bereaved parent.

Here it is (grab a tissue):

While I don’t identify with every word in the lyrics, I absolutely identify with the deep pain of sudden loss.

Why would You give and then take him away?

Suddenly end, could You not let it fade?

What I would give for a couple of days

A couple of days

TobyMac, 21 Years

I have cried the same tears, begged for the same answers, dug deep to find strength when I wanted to lie down and give up.

Thousands of parents walk around every day carrying a burden most say they would never be able to carry.

But you do.

Because there’s no alternative but to get up and go on.

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Even when your heart is breaking, even when your legs feel like they will not make one more step, you get up, face the day and begin trying to put the pieces back together.

And you learn how to love a child that you can only hold in your heart instead of your arms.

Is it just across the Jordan

Or a city in the stars

Are you singing with the angels

Are you happy where you are

Well until this show is over

And you run into my arms

God has you in heaven

But I have you in my heart

TobyMac, 21 Years

Broken Legs, Broken Hearts, Broken Lives

Sometimes I’m envious of folks hobbling along in those plastic boots designed to support an injured leg or ankle and aid healing.

Not because of the injuryI’m thankful I’ve never broken a bone-but because it’s an outward warning to anyone who might otherwise be impatient or insensitive that they just can’t go any faster.

I think there ought to be some kind of t-shirt, pin or banner that gives the same kind of warning for those of us walking around with broken hearts and broken lives.

But there isn’t.

Except for the first shell-shocked days immediately following Dominic’s death, I look pretty much the same as I always have.

Most of us do.

If you lined up a hundred parents and scattered ten in the group who had suffered child loss, very few people would be able to single them out.

The giant heart wound we bear is barely noticeable to the uninitiated.

Yet even years later, we need extra support, extra care, extra grace to help us continue to heal.

There’s no plastic boot to fit around a broken heart. But there are things friends and family can do to create safe spaces that protect it.

  • Remember my heart is tender and easily bruised.
  • Speak about my child in Heaven. When I hear his name it is music to my ears.
  • Allow me to graciously bow out of activities or gatherings that are noisy, busy or filled with people I don’t know.
  • Don’t change the subject when I become emotional because you are uncomfortable-acknowledge my pain as a perfectly acceptable response to an unfathomable loss or just hug me.
  • Help me carry the light and life of my missing child by sharing memories, photographs or mementos. It’s a great gift to know that my child is spoken about, remembered and loved by others.
  • Recognize that while I am stronger, the absolute weight of my burden isn’t lighter. On some days it’s heavier than others so don’t be surprised by tears that seem out of place or out of time.
  • Remember important dates like my child’s birthday or memorial service day or even when he or she would have graduated high school or college if denied that opportunity. My heart mark all those silent grief anniversaries even when no one else recognizes them. It can be awfully lonely. Compassionate companionship expressed in a note, text or call helps so very much.
  • Please don’t give up on me! There may be seasons when i isolate in an effort to protect my heart. I know it’s hard to continue to reach out to someone who won’t reach back, but sometimes I just don’t have the strength to do it even when the distance is short. Try again in a little while.

If you know someone whose child has run ahead to Heaven, don’t ignore the wound.

Reach out.

Don’t insist that they walk as fast or as unencumbered as you might.

Be willing to slow down and walk with them awhile.

Grieving Differently: Growing Apart or Growing Stronger?

It’s no secret that men and women are different.

It’s the subject of everything from romantic comedies to hundreds of books.

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” and all that.

So it shouldn’t surprise those of us walking this Valley that our spouse may be grieving very differently than we do. But it often does. Because everything is amplified when it echoes off the high mountains on either side.

And just when we need it most-for ourselves and for extending to others-grace is often in short supply.

So differences become offenses and offenses stack like bricks to build a wall between us and the one person as intimately connected to our missing child as we are.

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Instead of holding each other up, we sometimes tear each other down. Instead of leaning in, we pull away. Instead of talking, we tune out.

Instead of crying together, we cry alone.

Even when we open up and try to address these differences it often ends in disagreement or is met with silence.

That’s discouraging.

I firmly believe that grief doesn’t really change the fundamentals in a relationship but it magnifies them. We all have cracks in our marriages. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect couple regardless of how lovely the photos might be.

Child loss makes the cracks more evident. What might be ignored otherwise, becomes unavoidable. Add gender differences to the load of grief and it’s no wonder many of us struggle.

So how can a marriage survive?

Here are a few pointers:

  • Admit that you and your spouse are different people. Your life experiences, gender and personality affect how each of you grieve. Different isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.
  • Purpose to assume the best and not the worst of your spouse. When he or she makes a comment or shoots you a “look” don’t immediately ascribe dark motives. It may be she’s having an especially bad day or he is tired or distracted.
  • Look for common ground. When you are both in a neutral environment and rested, ask your spouse what they need from you. Then listen without being defensive. It could be that seeing you cry upsets him so that’s why he tries to shut you down. She might long to hear him say their child’s name aloud. Even if nothing changes, sometimes being heard makes a difference.
  • Consider couples’ counseling. Having someone outside your immediate grief circle listen to and guide you through feelings, concerns and problems is almost always helpful. It might only take a few sessions to give you both the tools necessary to walk yourselves through the rough patches.
  • Talk TO your spouse instead of ABOUT him or her. This can be a hard one! I think we all need a safe friend or two who will let us vent. That’s healthy. But it’s not healthy to talk about our spouse to others in what amounts to a bid for support of our own opinions and prejudices. Gathering wood for the fire of offense is easy. Putting out the blaze (even if you want to) is hard.
  • Remember that when feelings fluctuate, commitment carries you through. Grief isn’t just one emotion, it’s a tangled ball of emotions. On a given day you might feel sad, disoriented, angry, anxious and despondent. All that emotional weight is added to whatever else you may be feeling about your spouse. Sometimes it’s just too much to bear and running away seems like the most logical answer. But it’s not. We can never run far enough or fast enough to get away.

There’s no magic to marriage before or after child loss.

It’s mostly work.

We can choose to do that work together in spite of our differences.

We can choose to grow stronger instead of growing apart.

****FULL DISCLOSURE****

My husband and I do not do this perfectly or even close to perfectly. But we are still trying. At different points in this long (almost) six years, we’ve been better or worse at all of it. So don’t think if you are struggling it means you can’t get hang on. Sometimes it’s by the tips of your fingernails, but if you refuse to let go, you can make it.

❤ Melanie

20 In 2020: Self-Care Goals For The New Year

I used to do this every December 31st-sit down with my journal and write out goals for the coming year.

I’d spend an hour or two jotting down areas that needed attention and then formulate a plan for addressing them.

I grouped the goals under five headings: Spiritual, Personal, Family, Community, Farm/Home.

That was Day One in the journal and the rest was filled with successes, failures, reminders, prayers, lists of actions taken or revised goals based on a more realistic understanding of how the year was playing out.

I haven’t done that since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. I tried last year but quickly realized I was still in day-to-day survival mode and unable to look past the next week, much less a year!

So I resorted to my scraps of paper here and there with lists for the morning-happy to cross off regular chores and maybe churn out a small project or two.

I’m going to TRY again this year.

And I’m making it public so perhaps I’ll be a bit more committed to completion of these goals. But instead of all those old categories I’m focusing only on one: Self-care. I haven’t been especially good at that for most of my life and have been downright awful at it for the past six years.

My mind, body and soul are weary.

My ability to rebound is next to nothing.

So I’m going to take the advice I’d give anyone in my position and focus on what will rebuild and restore my strength, my passion and my reserves.

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TWENTY SELF-CARE GOALS FOR 2020:

Spend 15 minutes each morning writing in my journal. Include something for which I’m grateful, something I need to get off my chest and something to look forward to that day. This will help me begin the day with a good attitude and without carry over from the day before. I sometimes spin my wheels trying to right something that went wrong yesterday instead of thinking about how to make today better.

Image result for finish each day and be done with it

Spend 15 minutes each morning doing gentle stretches. I need to get some range-of-motion back in the joints most affected by RA. I’ve always known consistency is key but I usually have something I HAVE to do and don’t take the time.

Drink 16 ounces of water along with my cup of coffee. We all probably need more water.

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Light a candle. Both the act of lighting one and the gentle glow remind my heart that darkness doesn’t win.

Laugh every day. (Find a comic strip if I need to or watch a funny video.) Laughter is good medicine (not just a proverb, a scientific fact!). I know that on days when someone or something makes me laugh, endorphins flood my body and shift my mood for hours.

Copy Scripture daily. I’ve piddled at this in the past couple years. It used to be a daily (read NEVER missed a day no matter what) habit. Joint pain in my hands made it increasingly difficult and grief gave me the added excuse to drop it. But I miss it. Even when the particular verses don’t speak volumes to my heart, they never return void.

Reestablish a prayer journal. I kept a prayer journal for decades. And then Dominic left for Heaven. Along with other aspects of my faith, I reexamined what prayer is, why I should pray and how I wanted to pray. I’m ready to plunge back in with a new and slightly different understanding of what it will look like.

Complete one creative project each month. I’m a maker (from way back) and really need to have a creative outlet. It’s been hard to find the time (or set aside the time) for many years. Add to that ordinary life stuff and a shortened attention span since Dom left and I really haven’t made much in a long time. Creating beautiful things feeds my soul.

Walk for 30-60 minutes each day. Again, walked nearly every day for decades. All the physical and emotional difficulties of the past few years made it too easy to excuse one day and then another until I have fallen out of the habit. NO excuses in the coming year! Every day unless it’s pouring rain. (Somebody out there keep me accountable!).

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Read for 30 minutes each night before bed. With screens everywhere it’s so easy to just scroll through “one more time” before drifting off to sleep. I used to read every single night but grief made focusing difficult and tiresome. I want to get back in that habit. I need the encouragement, mind-stretching exercise and relaxation of reading again.

Start a Grandmama journal for Ryker. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t purpose to write some things down NOW, I’ll never do it. So I think I’ll start a journal just for him (and any other grandchildren that might come along). I’m going to set an appointment with myself every two weeks to add to it. I want to include family activities, family lore, photos and funny stories.

Organize and preserve family photos and make copies for each child. Again-something I’ve learned the hard way-is that the longer I wait, the more enormous the task will be. And while this may not seem like self-care, it is. This has been hanging over my head since Dominic left us.

Gather family recipes. I think family food and the stories behind it is a beautiful and unique way to pass on family history. I’m not sure how I’ll do it, but this year I’m at least going to get all the recipes copied and in one place.

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Make birthdays and holidays special. We’ve limped along long enough. I was the mom (way before Pinterest) that created themed birthday parties and set out hourly activities for New Year’s Eve. With grown children, the celebrations won’t look the same (no one wants a plastic sheriff badge!) but they can be celebrations just the same.

Watch the sunset. I see every sunrise because my chair faces the giant eastern window in my living room and I’m up before the sun each morning. But sunset takes effort. I want to stop at the end of each day and recognize I made it through with God’s strength and Presence. Practice the pause.

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Spend time with my horses, start riding again. Another thing I enjoy that I’ve simply not pursued because there are always, always, always things that seem more important. But brushing the horses, working with them, smelling them and riding them bring joy. I need more joy.

Write old-fashioned letters once a week. I love writing letters but tend to forget that I love it. Old-fashioned mail is just as exciting to get in these digital days as it ever was. I want to send somebody some sunshine.

Pause for deep breathing three times a day. Resetting my body, mind and spirit gives me the opportunity to shake off any less than happy or satisfying moments earlier in the day and go forward from a new starting place. Many days can be redeemed. I don’t want to waste the days I’ve got left.

Image result for benefits of deep breathing infographic

Say, “I’ll think about it” when asked to take on another responsibility instead of always answering, “yes”. Each new activity, responsibility or promise means that something else will have to go or be delayed. I need to learn to consider whether or not I have the capacity to add and/or the willingness to take away. I will not allow these self-care goals to be set aside for more busy work.

Have at least one day per week at home, without a long to-do list, and be lazy. I don’t do lazy well. Part personality, part upbringing and a whole lot of experience while raising children predisposes me to make the most of every moment. But everything doesn’t have to be done “now”.

Some of my goals may be so personal they aren’t helpful to anyone else. But I hope some of them spur you on to writing a list of your own.

Either way, I hope my readers will help hold me accountable. My plan is to write a monthly update on how I’m doing and what adjustments I might have made to the original goals.

I firmly believe that failure to plan is planning to fail.

And in spite of my very personal, very painful experience that plans don’t always make a difference, I refuse to give in to hopelessness.

So grab a pen, grab a notebook and decide for yourself where you will set your aim for 2020.

I promise that if you do, it’ll be a better year than if you don’t.

I'm Still A 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.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/12/16/wife-mother-daughter-sister-friend/