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.
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 injury–I’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.
Don’t insist that they walk as fast or as unencumbered as you might.
I started writing because of Dominic and my family. I keep writing because of Dominic and my family and all the beautiful souls I’ve met along this journey-many who have never lost a child but whose hearts grieve for someone or something else.
I thought I’d share what I read at my sweet mama’s funeral yesterday-it was made easier and richer by all those who have walked with me so far in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Your comments, your messages, your thoughts and insights helped me express the most important lesson I’m learning in grief: Love Lives Forever.
When we walk through the graveyard or read an obituary, we almost always look for those two dates that bookend a life-for Mama it is September 23, 1938 and September 27, 2019.
Lots of sermons have been preached about that dash in between-about that what we do or don’t do, who we love or don’t love, how we use the years we are given as either a blessing or something else.
And that is very, very true.
We tend to think that the last date-the date when breath leaves the body and the soul escapes the trials of this world to enter the glory of Heaven-as the end. We can hardly help it because our relationship to the one we love changes so dramatically.
I can’t hug Mama anymore, I can’t hear her laugh, I can’t call her up and tell her, “I love you” or greet her in the morning with a “Hi Girlie!”.
It creates a giant void for me and an unfathomably huge void for Papa. We are going to have to find a way to live with that empty space in our hearts and in our lives.
It takes lots and lots of work, lots and lots of tears and lots and lots of time. There’s no shortcut through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
My Mama lost HER mother suddenly, to a stroke, when she was just ten years old. So she lived with that giant hole in her heart for over 71 years. She could have allowed the pain to make her cold and bitter, closed off and unavailable. It certainly would have been an understandable response to a traumatic loss.
But she didn’t.
Without exception, every person who has called, written or come by to pay respects to Patty Hart describes her as gracious, lovely, kind, generous, welcoming, cheerful and bright.
Mama chose love.
In just the past few weeks, before this last hospitalization, I got to see Mama begin to pour that love into a new generation. She had two visits from her great-grandson. One due to Hurricane Dorian (they had to evacuate) and one that was scheduled to give her the chance to meet him.
I won’t fib and say that having overnight visitors in the house was easy for her or Papa with all her medical conditions, but you’d never know it by the grin on her face when I put that chubby little stinker in her lap.
For a few minutes, she was Nanny again-singing, cooing, laughing and making eyes at him. She even got to be the first one to see him turn over. That tickled her!
Truth is, that last date isn’t the end. There’s no period after Patricia Ann Landrum Hart’s life. Of course she lives on in Heaven with Jesus, her mama and my Dominic.
But even here, on earth, love lives forever.
It lives in the lives she touched and will continue to touch through her friends and family as they honor her legacy of love.
Our circle is broken today. Death is awful and it’s hard. It’s a reminder the world is not as God intended it to be and we walk a broken road toward the promises of redemption and restoration.
But the chains of love forged in our hearts are never severed.
And I’m reminded once again how very important friends are along life’s journey.
So. many. people. have called, texted, messaged and expressed love and concern for our family.
It’s really encouraging!
But what I know, that others may not know (if they’ve been blessed to escape losing a close loved one so far) is that it’s not too long before all this attention fades away.
People usually don’t choose to stop connecting with broken hearts. It’s just that life gets busy and while grievers can’t ignore the palpable absence of their loved one, other folks have mostly filled in the space where they used to be.
Please don’t forget us.
Even years later, there are days when grief overwhelms a heart.
We NEED faithful friends to remind us that pain is not all that’s left in the world.
At first grief felt only like sorrow and longing and brokenness.
Then it felt like confusion and anxiety and despair.
A little further along this journey it mostly felt like apathy.
Now it feels like love.
It’s the same love that helped me hold on when I was face first in the toilet every morning for seven months. Morning sickness with Dominic lasted nearly the whole pregnancy! With two young children already in our home, it was one of the hardest seasons of my life.
It’s the same love that demanded they bring me my baby when they whisked him away due to “concerns” after birth. Twenty-four hours later, c-section or no c-section, I told the nurse I’d be marching my butt down to the nursery if they didn’t bring him to me right away. (It was a different time-no real “rooming in”.)
It’s the same love that worked with my frustrated little boy to make his words sound clear and correct. Slow down, hit the hard consonants, be precise in how you form your lips. He grew up to give the undergraduate address when he graduated from UAB in front of thousands.
It’s the same love that listened when he told me his troubles, his fears and his dreams. So, so many nights he’d come in, flop down backwards on my bed and proceed to talk until I was just about to drift off to sleep.
It’s the same love that held his hand as people walked by expressing condolences.
It’s the same love that kissed his cold cheek before they lowered the casket lid. Told him, “Good-bye” and walked upright from the sanctuary.
I refused to dishonor his brave life by giving in to my personal fear.
Grief is really just love.
Dominic has been my son since he sat safely in my womb.
He’s still my son.
My love is not diminished because I can no longer touch him.
I cling fast to words that speak aloud what I’ve only thought.
I collect sentences that eloquently express what I can only feel.
I pull them out on days when my head and heart are doing battle and I can’t find any middle ground.
Reading reminds me I’m not the first soul to travel this way.
Others have been here before and left breadcrumbs.
A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.” I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That’s my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
The promise that I will one day see Dominic again makes the pain bearable. But it does nothing to treat the essential wound. He is not here and I will miss him, miss him, miss him until I draw my last breath.
The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it. A section withered and became a scar on the part of your soul that survived. For people like me and Echo, our souls contained more scar tissue than life.” ― Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits
Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits
I never knew a person could cry every day for months. Not just a tiny overflow that falls sweetly down a cheek but gigantic gut-wrenching, ear-shattering sobs. That was what I hid from everyone-the pillow-over-my-mouth-to-muffle it-crying in my room in the dark.
Maybe we all do.
Maybe that’s why those untouched by child loss don’t really know how much it hurts and for how long.
grief is a house where the chairs have forgotten how to hold us the mirrors how to reflect us the walls how to contain us
grief is a house that disappears each time someone knocks at the door or rings the bell a house that blows into the air at the slightest gust that buries itself deep in the ground while everyone is sleeping
grief is a house where no one can protect you where the younger sister will grow older than the older one where the doors no longer let you in or out
Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, he was living on his own. He’d been out of the house for a couple of years.
So I was utterly unprepared to find his earthly absence echoed in the house from which he had already been absent. Everything changed, everything was slightly askew.
And it is “a house where the younger [brother] will grow older than the older one”.
For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I remember being surprised the first time I circled back around in my grief and revisited places in my heart I thought I had subdued and conquered.
But that’s how it is.
Grief has so many layers that I honestly don’t believe we could survive it at all if forced to peel them back all at once. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact I will come back to many of the same sore spots over and over.
I do feel like I’m spiraling upward. Each time I circle around, I’m better equipped to face the fear or guilt or sorrow or despair.