Can’t Run Away

You know that scene in Forrest Gump where he starts running and just can’t stop?

I thought that was a funny way to deal with grief when I first saw the movie.

But now I understand it perfectly.  

run forrest run

If I could have started running, walking or even crawling away from the heartache in those first days and weeks I would have.  

Truth is, though, you can’t.  

No matter how far or how fast you run, it all comes with you.  I have to live in the black and white reality of a world that includes my dead son.  I don’t have a choice if I’m going to keep my sanity.

And I think that’s another kind of invisible wall that separates those of us who walk this Valley from those that don’t:  we know-deep down, surefire, gut-wrenchingly-KNOW there are things you cannot escape.

feel deal heal

You can’t outrun them.

You can’t wish them away.

You can’t ignore them.

You have to embrace them no matter how prickly, heartbreaking or impossible that seems.  

And then learn to live with them. 

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

 

 

Shifting The Weight, Bearing the Burden

I told the two children with me that morning that we were going to survive this awful blow.

And we have.

It has been hard and ugly and more painful than anything else we’ve ever had to do. 

But we’re still standing.

And I want to encourage the hearts that are just starting down this broken road:  You really CAN make it.

Some of you reading this are saying, “But I don’t want to make it.  I want to lie down and give up and be out of this pain.”  

I don’t blame you. 

That’s precisely how my heart felt for months and months.  The only thing that kept me holding onto hope was a strong desire that my precious family not have to bury another person they loved.  It was enough to force my lungs to draw one more breath, and then another, and then another.

ok to just breathe

The breaths turned into minutes turned into hours turned into days-then weeks, months and finally, years.

Here I am, four plus years into this Valley and I can tell you this:

Sorrow is no longer all I feel and my son’s absence no longer all I see.  

Yes, every single minute grief runs like background noise in my brain.  I can go from OK to devastated in a heartbeat.

Yes, I miss Dominic like crazy.

I miss the family we used to have.

I miss the me I used to be.

But I am also living, loving and even laughing my way through many days.

I can go from tearful to joyful in a heartbeat too.  I am even more grateful for the children that walk the earth with me.  I try harder to be present, to listen, to lean in and love more fully.

The broken me is a more compassionate woman who knows the value of a minute spent with someone you love.  

I’ve learned to shift the weight of grief to one hip and make room for other things.  

It’s hard.  

It’s going to stay hard. 

But with God’s help, I’m strong enough to make it.  

track record for bad days is 100

Keeping It Real: It’s STILL Hard

When I started writing, Dominic had been gone nearly 18 months.  

Before I went public with my thoughts, I had filled six journals with page after page of ramblings, Scripture, quotes from books, questions and tears.  

Those are some of my most precious possessions because when I look back I can see how even in the very first hours (yes, I started writing that morning) God was already bringing truth and healing to my shattered soul and broken heart.  

In a couple months it will be three years since I started sharing here.  And while I rarely look back on the posts in any orderly way, I can see that God has continued His faithfulness when I do.

But just like I promised when I wrote the introduction to my site, I will always be as honest as possible when I share.  

So let me just tell you:  It’s STILL hard.  

Not in the same first, breath-robbing, soul-crushing, can’t-lift-my-head sort of way that makes a heart certain it can. not. survive.

But in a slow-leak, not-enough-air-in-my-tires sort of way that makes every road less comfortable to travel and necessitates lots of stops to make sure I can keep going.

I’ve just endured two weeks of one bad thing after another.  

All of them have a solution which (on my scale) makes them hardly worth noting.  

But each disrupted my life and will require significant time, energy and resources to address.  

And for a heart that has learned how to make it by going slow, choosing predictable paths and incorporating lots of stops along the way, those kinds of disruptions create stress and strain on an already taxed system. 

I will absolutely survive.  

I’ve already survived the cruelest and most difficult days of my life.  

But it’s no cake walk.  

It’s still hard.

track record for bad days is 100

 

[Mis] Perception

“I’ll believe it when I see it!”

That’s the standard, isn’t it?  We trust our eyes to tell us the truth.  We rely on our senses to winnow out the chaff of falsehood and leave us with the meaty grain of truth.

But what if my eyes aren’t as trustworthy as I think?

What if my perception is limited and unreliable?

Living in the south means long, hot summers.

In the middle of July I would sign an affidavit that it has to be at least 100 degrees outside and not much cooler inside unless I run my air conditioner to the tune of a huge electric bill.

But if I do a little digging, I find that the average high for July and August in my part of Alabama is only 90-91 degrees.

Now, that doesn’t mean there are no days hotter, but it does mean that my sense of interminable heat is inaccurate and untrue.  As a matter of fact, the average temp begins to decline mid-August when we are all panting for fall to make its appearance.

My point is this:  when I am sweating in the middle of summer, I’m not in a position to give you an accurate weather report.

All I know is that I am hot.

All I know is that I think I will be hot for days and weeks to come.  All I know is that a cool breeze would be welcome but it doesn’t seem to be in the offing anytime soon.

I don’t readily perceive the tiny creep toward cooler temperatures that is happening right under my nose.

It’s been the same way in my grief journey.

Four years in and I am definitely in a better mental, emotional and spiritual place than I was even a year ago.

But if you had asked me at any point during that time if I could perceive a shift toward healing, I would have said, “not really”.

I was (and am) relying on my senses to tell me where I am in this process of embracing the life I didn’t choose.  Yet they are easily overwhelmed by my daily experience-crying one day, laughing the next, undone by memories again, blessed by a friend’s text or phone call-filled to the brim with input.

I have a hard time sorting it out and looking objectively at what the data suggests.

When I can take a step back, I see that my heart has healed in some measure.  I have enfolded the truth that Dominic is not here into who I am and what my life will look like until I join him in heaven.

And understanding THAT helps me continue this journey.

braver stronger smarter

I don’t want to be stuck in the misperception that I can “never learn to live without my son”.

I am learning how to do just that.

I don’t like it.  I will NEVER like it.

But I am doing it.

Little by little, in tiny increments, every day reaching out, reaching forward and making choices that promote healing.

It’s happening.

Even if I can’t see it.

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

Sterkte: The Empowering Strength of God in Me

Yesterday was four years since the day we buried Dominic.  I can barely comprehend it. It’s a terrible thing for a mama’s heart to watch the seasons change and think, “I need to change the flowers on Dominic’s grave.”

But I do it.

It’s one of the last things I can do for this child of my heart.

Sterkte. 

I didn’t even know this word when we buried Dominic.  

But I wish I had.  

Because “sterkte” expresses precisely the supernatural strength and courage that filled my heart, mind and body as I stood for the hours of visitation, sang the worship songs, listened to friends, family and our shepherd/pastor give a message and invitation to a packed sanctuary, then filed out ahead of my son’s casket.

Sterkte literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.

It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insurmountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

The morning of Dominic’s funeral-nine long days after his accident-I posted this on Facebook:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” 
~Habakkuk 3: 17-18

dom on mountaintop

Years before, in another dry but hardly tragic season, God had imprinted those verses on my heart.  Even if-even if- there was no way through but through, I was determined to trust God and to lean in and hold onto hope.  

I had no idea how that choice would be tested in the coming days, weeks, months. 

I had no idea that even now, four years later, I would have to hold on just as hard, wake each morning and make that choice once again, refuse the whispers of the enemy of my soul that spread seeds of doubt and confusion.

But in my own strength, all the determination in the world would be for nothing. 

I am not strong enough or brave enough to stand.  

It’s sterkte that held me up that day four years ago when my son’s body was lowered into the ground and dirt shoveled on top.  It’s sterkte that keeps me upright today when tsunami waves of grief still wash over me and sobs escape.  It’s sterkte that gives me strength to hold onto hope and lean into truth and keep marching bravely into a future that may yet hold more heartache.

Habakkuk committed to praise God no matter what happened.  

He understood sterkte.  It was his lifeline. 

After his declaration of purpose, he gives the reason why: 

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

~Habakkuk 3:19

The Lord God is my Strength.

The Lord God is my personal bravery.

The Lord God is my invincible army. 

He is the reason I’m still standing.

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

Barbara Bush, Bereavement and Being Brave

Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday, said she didn’t fear death. That may be because the 92-year-old former first lady faced it before, in the hardest way imaginable.

~Steve Hendrix, Washington Post article 4-18-18

Barbara Bush was many things-wife, mother, First Lady, spokesperson for literacy and charitable foundations. 

She was bold.

She was sometimes blunt. 

But she was always brave.

Barbara and george larger

Early in her marriage to George she faced what no parent ever wants to endure.  Her (then) only daughter, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia in the days when cancer was barely understood and often not even spoken aloud.

Because their family had the means, and because Barbara was committed to fight for her daughter, they flew to the East Coast and endured months of treatment that only delayed Robin’s death, but did not cure her.

They returned to their Texas home a family minus one.

I’ve thought a lot about the many, many years Barbara lived after that terrible blow.  I always do the math whenever any famous person who has buried a child follows their heart home to Jesus and reunion.

While there are days when I am utterly overwhelmed by the fact I may live for many decades with the burden of missing my son, days like today-when I have the bold, brave witness of Barbara Bush’s life to encourage me-I think I just might make it.  

barbara bush 2014

I long for my life to be just such a witness.  

I want to live well and fruitfully in the years I have left.  

I want to leave a legacy of love for those that come behind. 

I want to be brave. 

The death of a child is so painful, both emotionally and spiritually, that I truly wondered if my own heart and spirit would ever heal … I soon learned that I could help myself best by helping others … it wasn’t until Robin died that I truly threw myself into volunteer work. That precious little girl left our family a great legacy. I know George and I care more for every living person because of her. We learned firsthand the importance of reaching out to help because others had reached out to us during that crucial time.

~Barbara Bush (1925-2018)

 

How Can I Survive Grief Anniversaries?

There are more than you might think.  

Most folks would count the date of death and maybe the date of burial or memorial service.

But a mama’s heart counts it ALL.

I count the day he left, the day I was first able to view his body, the days of visitation, the day of the funeral and burial.

  • I count the day we cleaned out his apartment.
  • I count the day I notified credit card companies he would no longer require their services.
  • I count the day I received the death certificate.
  • I count the day I got his posthumous diploma.

And every year these dates roll around again to remind my heart of the pain I felt then and to pierce it afresh. 

grief as timeless as love

So how does a heart survive all these grief anniversaries?  How can I navigate the minefield of emotions and triggers that only I can see?

I believe the first step is to embrace them and not try to deny them. 

 

Earl-Grollman-grief-is-not-a-disorder

I remember the horror I felt when I realized I had survived 365 days since the deputy came to my door when I was certain I wouldn’t make it through the first 24 hours.  It did not feel like victory, it felt like betrayal.  

How in the world could my broken heart keep beating if I truly loved my son?

I cannot, by force of will, fend off the feelings that are sure to invade my heart when it recognizes that another year has passed.  

The most important thing is to have a plan, I think. That way it doesn’t slam you against the wall unawares. The feelings are impossible to outrun, but having a plan means you are anticipating them and in a kind of “fighting stance”.

The plan might be to go away or to go to the cemetery or other spot that evokes strong connection to your child.  It might be an elaborate gathering that includes friends or family or just lighting a candle next to a photograph.  Your heart may insist you stay in bed all day, covers over your head and wait out the ticking moments.

I think each family has to approach the day however makes sense to them. There is certainly no “right” way or “easy” way to do it.

no right way to grieve

I am sorry you have to do it at all.

Here’s the truth:  even THAT day will only last 24 hours. Just like the awful day when your child left you.

However you manage to survive is fine. 

mother and child paintingYou are not abandoning your missing child if you don’t make a big public display.  You are not forgetting him or her if you let go of some of these grief anniversaries over time-you are learning to carry the load.  You are not a bad parent if you choose a getaway to distract your heart from the pain.

You are coping the best you can-choosing to carry on.  

And that makes you awesome and brave.  

courage is always an act of love