Bereaved Parents Month Post: Nagging Guilt in Child Loss

It came up again just the other day-a mama was lamenting her son’s death and listing all the ways it might have been her fault.

It’s natural to go down that path.

But it’s unfruitful. Because none of us are omniscient or omnipresent or omnipotent.

I should have known.  I should have been there.  I should have called, texted, spoken one more warning or given one more hug.

Should.  Should?  Should!

wistful woman looking out wet window

I have yet to speak to a bereaved parent who does not harbor guilt of some kind over the death of his or her child.

Not one.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/03/10/nagging-guilt-in-child-loss/

Bereaved Parents Month: Self-Care For Families

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

Read the rest here:  Grief is a Family Affair

Bereaved Parents Month Post: The Missing Never Ends

I’ve learned that there are new things to miss even five years down this road of child loss.  

I’ve learned that any odd moment, random smell, taste,touch, or occasion can pierce that place in my heart that screams, “Dominic should be here!”.  

I’m also learning additional ways his absence continues to shape the family we have NOW.   Dom’s absence continues to impact decisions, expectations, hopes and dreams TODAY.

I miss family photos when I don’t count heads and note unfilled spaces.  It’s not just Dom I’m yearning for.  I long for us to all be together-no one missing.  It’s a little easier (sometimes) when one or more of us aren’t able to make a particular trip or event because then it’s not ONLY Dominic gone from the frame.

But truth be told, I can’t stop my heart from looking and hoping that this time, it’ll be different. 

This time, we’ll be whole. 

wedding our family

I miss the ease with which I used to toss together family meals, social occasions and holiday gatherings.  I’ve always LOVED making things special and never minded cooking buckets of food.  I used to plan weeks in advance-gathering recipes, ideas, decorative items and sometimes little gifts or favors for those who attended.  I checked with folks for dietary preferences or allergies.  It was a joy even when it exhausted me because I loved shaping spaces and experiences to strengthen family ties.

I miss waking up and facing a new day without reservation or trepidation.  I’m a sunrise kind of gal.  I used to turn my face toward the big picture window in our living room waiting for first light to dawn and the day to get going.  Fresh start.  New opportunities.

It took awhile but some days I can do that.

Still there are many days I watch the trees come into focus knowing daylight can’t always lift the darkness in my heart.  

winter sunrise pines and zeke filter

I miss turning corners in my house or walking on my land encountering only good memories, happy reverie and hope that tomorrow would bring more of the same.  When we moved here over twenty years ago, it felt like home.  Plenty of space for children to run, exciting adventures discovering woods, water and animal life abounded.  There are so, so many memories everywhere I turn.  Memories used to spark hope for more.  Now they are silent witness to the line that demarcates our lives into BEFORE and AFTER.

I miss the certain assurance when someone doesn’t pick up the phone or answer a text that “all is well”.  We have always been a family on the move.  It sounds ridiculous today, but a driver’s license was the ticket to a personal cell phone when my kids were growing up.  As each one gained the privilege of driving away alone, we made sure they had a way to call and let us know they arrived safely.  If I called them and there was no answer, it was a good hour or two before my heart went into overdrive and my mind imagined all the horrible possibilities.

Now I make that trip in seconds or minutes despite any logic that can easily explain it away.  

cell phone in hand huffpost

I miss having energy to spare.  I know part of my energy drain is simply age.  I’m not so cocky as to assume the years don’t play a role in slowing me down.  But I know that’s only half (or less!) of it.  The constant effort to edit, direct, control and contain my words, thoughts and emotions sucks the life right out of me.  What used to easily be a one hour job takes two.  And projects I could whip together in a day require a week or more.  Discouragement makes me sad and tired.  So the cycle continues.

sleep doesnt help if your soul is tired

I miss sound sleep and good dreams.  Right after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I could barely sleep at all.  There was no escaping awful scenes playing across my closed eyelids.  Eventually I was able to lull my mind into a kind of calm and sleep a little.  Five years later I rarely sleep more than two hours at a stretch without waking.  While I usually roll over and doze off again, I never get the kind of restorative rest I really need.

Dreams are another matter altogether. 

They are often full of jumbled bits that leave me unsettled and full of dread.  

I miss making plans for next month or next year without the silent caveat that we just can’t be sure they will come to pass.  A large calendar hanging prominently in our kitchen was my go-to for keeping track of crazy family schedules and commitments for decades.  I took it down a day after Dominic died and didn’t hang another for over two years.  I couldn’t bear to turn page after page knowing Dominic’s name would never show up again except in reference to him being gone.  I have one now.  But while I still write things in different colored pen (easier to see and track) my mind knows every single plan is really just penciled in.

Until the day comes or the moment arrives, my heart holds it lightly.  

calendar

I miss saying innocent good-byes.  I was never the crying mom waving a handkerchief as my kids made their way down the long driveway to the larger world.  I always missed them, of course.  But the goal was to raise independent persons capable of doing things, going places and living their own lives.  So a good strong hug, a kiss on the cheek, “I love you” and they were off leaving a smiling mama behind.  It never occurred to me that THIS time could be the LAST time I touched or talked to them.

Now, every good-bye is sacred.  Every hug a prayer.  

I miss hearing Dominic’s name in casual conversation.  Oh, we still talk about him.  But it’s not the same.  Sometimes it’s awkward and leads to odd pauses.  Most times it’s more natural.  Always it’s with sad recognition that instead of memories we should be sharing fresh stories of adventure.

rememberers

I appreciate each new day I’m given. 

I take nothing for granted because I know how quickly and easily it can be snatched away.

But my heart can’t help but long for the way things used to be and yearn for the way things would be if Dominic were still here.  

fiona and brandon wedding memorial flowers
In memory of Dominic from an anonymous friend for Fiona’s wedding. Photo by Katie Jewell Photography

 

 

Bereaved Parents Month Post: How Am I Doing? That’s A Hard Question To Answer.

I promise I’m not being evasive.

But when you ask me how I’m doing I never know exactly what to say.

Do I give the conventional, anticipated answer so we can each get on with our day or do I give you the answer that reflects the state of my heart right now?

Either way is risky.

question

When I go along with convention and answer, “fine”, I let others off the hook.  I assure them the card they wrote or the meal they brought or the flowers they sent have staying power to convince my heart they care.

Depending on my relationship with them, sometimes it’s all (or more than) I expected.  So we’re good.

But sometimes I thought they’d stick around, check in more often or offer some kind of ongoing support.  Then I battle the temptation to reveal the actual state of my heart as a kind of retribution for being abandoned.

When I bravely offer an honest answer, I may catch someone by surprise, or make them supremely uncomfortable, or put them on the defensive as they scramble for some kind of response.

As a society we are simply unequipped to deal with the ongoing impact grief and loss has on a heart.  We want all things to fit into the medical model of “wound-treatment-healing”. 

But they don’t.  

So, so many sad, heartbreaking, life-changing blows are never healed this side of Heaven. 

Child loss is one of them.  

So some days (or moments) I’m doing pretty well.

Some days (or weeks) I’m not well at all.

How am I?

That’s a hard question to answer.  ❤

how are you fine words in letters

 

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Grace and Space

It didn’t take long after Dominic’s leaving for life to ramp up and obligations to pour in. We had two graduations and a wedding within two months of his funeral.

Then there were thank-you notes to write, dishes to return and every day chores necessary to manage a home and family.

No escaping what must be done.

It took me a little while to realize that if I was going to survive this lifelong journey I had to make some changes in how and when I responded to requests to do something, be somewhere or participate in outside events.   Because no matter how worthy the request, there was only so much of me to go around and I was forced to spend nearly all my energy and time and effort on figuring out how this great wound was impacting me and my family.

I cannot overemphasize how much strength and energy is needed to do the work grief requires.

At first, turning down a request or asking someone to reschedule was relatively easy-the loss was fresh in their minds and they were gracious and understanding.  As the weeks and months and now YEARS have passed, it is harder…

Read the rest here:  Grace and Space

How I Sing The Hymns That Hurt My Heart

I grew up singing hymns.

I was introduced to praise choruses in my mid-twenties.

I love both.

I used to hear or sing along to them and feel them feed my spirit.

My family sang in choirs, served on worship teams and was rarely absent from church for over twenty years.  Music was part of everyday life with a special bonus on Sundays.  

dominic at gray haven

Now I find it hard to hear and even harder to sing some hymns I used to love. 

One of the most challenging is “It Is Well”-really, IS it well? 

Can I sing these words with conviction or am I lying my way through just to keep others from asking questions?  

I know the story behind the hymn-at least the part every worship leader or pastor likes to share.  Horatio Spafford wrote the words as he passed the very spot where his daughters drowned in an ocean crossing.  His life didn’t end on a high note.  It’s often introduced as an amazing testimony of victory over grief and death.  If I only cling harder to Jesus, I, too, can experience perfect peace in the midst of great trial and suffering.

it is well hymn music image

We sang that hymn in church a couple of weeks ago and I realized that it is a prayer as much as (or instead of) a declaration.

In many ways, after 5 years, it IS well with my soul.

I’ve reached a place where I can rest easy with unanswered questions and where I have finally received this blow with open arms. I’m not fighting the FACT of my son’s earlier than expected move to Heaven.

On those days, I can sing the chorus as an affirmation of truth.  

i thessalonians 3 peace

But I have days (and sometimes weeks) where life and memories and anniversaries and random stress unsettle me again. So then I sing it as a PRAYER like the psalmist who turns his heart to the only One Who can fill it again with grace, peace and hope. 

It may not be well right NOW, but it WILL be well.  

sings with song

I can trust that He who began a good work in me will complete it.

I can lean on the truth that in Christ every promise of God is “yes” and “amen”.

I know, deep in my bones, that all this heartache will ultimately be redeemed and that whatever I have lost in this life will be gloriously restored in Heaven. 

Blink of an eye heaven

Confession: I Talk To Myself. A LOT.

I used to be the one family and friends hit up for a phone number or address before we all had that information in our pockets via smartphones.  

Now, there are days when I have a hard time remembering my OWN phone number, much less anyone else’s. 

Grief brain and RA fog have wiped my mind clean of not only important facts but also the ability to keep track of what I’m doing and where I’m going.

So I talk to myself.

A LOT.  

 

see me talking getting expert advice

 

It’s one way of keeping me on track and on task.  

I use lists and sticky notes and phone alarms as well, but something about talking myself through the day helps more than all those things.

I also talk myself down from anxious moments.  I repeat, “This is not an emergency, this is not an emergency” over and over when a truly non-threatening trigger ramps up the adrenaline and sends my heart into overdrive.  It is so easy to be driven by urgency if I don’t remind myself of this truth.

anxiety take your time

I remind myself out loud to be careful when walking on slippery mud or working with horses.  Even when I’m not conscious of grief, it can make me careless and inattentive.  I sometimes find that I’ve wandered into a situation where extra attention is absolutely crucial if it’s to end well.  So I say, “Pay attention!” or “Watch out!” just as I would to a roaming toddler or feeble senior.

Complicated tasks have to be broken down now.  I can’t do two things at once.  If I forget and wind up juggling things when I shouldn’t be, I declare, “One thing at a time, Melanie.  One thing at a time!”

focus on one thing at a time

Driving, I’ll calm my nerves in traffic by focusing on my own lane, humming a tune and sometimes saying, “It’s not a race.  Slow down.  Take the easy way and don’t try to get around them.”  My house is 13 miles from the nearest traffic light, so when I have to go to the city, I almost always feel nervous.

And when I get out of the car at each stop I repeat the mantra:  “Keys, phone, list, purse.”

make a list sometimes remember to bring it

I have a running conversation about what I need to do next as I walk from room to room, tidying up.  I chant, “Lock the door.  Turn off the fan.  Feed the cats.” before bedtime.

The good thing about cell phones being everywhere is most times folks probably think I’m talking to someone else. 

What I like best about cell phones is that I can talk to myself in the car now and nobody thinks it’s weird.
― Ron Brackin

Either way, I don’t really care.  

It’s how I manage to get through a day without locking the keys in the car, falling on my backside or melting into an anxious puddle on the floor.  ❤no earpiece no cell phone talking to myself