Handle With Care

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is  no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

Waiting On Someday

It’s been said that children are a mother’s heart walking around outside her body–mine certainly are.

And now part of my heart is in heaven.  That makes the promises of God so much more personal.

So I hunt for, cling to and chew on every word like it really is the bread of life–because while I walk the valley of the shadow of death this is the food that sustains me.  

Today  my heart is broken, but someday it will be whole again.

Today I walk in shadow, but someday I will walk in bright light:

“No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Isaiah 60:19 NLT

Today all creation groans under the curse of sin and death, but someday everything will be restored, renewed and redeemed. 

On this mountain [Zion] the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples [to welcome His reign on earth],
A banquet of aged wines—choice pieces [flavored] with marrow,
Of refined, aged wines.

And on this mountain He will destroy the covering that is [cast] over all peoples,
And the veil [of death] that is woven and spread over all the nations.

He will swallow up death [and abolish it] for all time.
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
And He will take away the disgrace of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

It will be said in that day,
“Indeed, this is our God for whom we have waited that He would save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us shout for joy and rejoice in His salvation.”
Isaiah 25:6-9 AMP

Settled Forever

Losing a child not only draws a line across time, it causes a seismic shift in priorities.

Beef or  chicken? Heels or flats? Red or blue?

Sometimes I still have to make these decisions–but there are some things settled forever.

Saying, “I love you” is always a good idea.

I don’t hesitate to tell a friend, “Thanks for being here!”

I drive slowly through neighborhoods.

My anger rarely burns longer than the minute hand moving one tick to the next.

I choose to be gentle, extend grace, give mercy.  A kind word or small gesture might be the only light in someone’s day.

Good-byes always include hugs and an eye-to-eye smile.

If you’re behind me on the highway, yes, I’m going to let that car over

I refuse to sweat the small stuff-and, unless life hangs in the balance, it’s ALL small stuff.

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Colossians 3:12-14 MSG

Heart of Flesh

We see the news, we hear the numbers, we count the dead.  We thank God that it wasn’t our friend, our husband, our child.

But it is someone’s child…every person is someone’s child.

I knew when Dominic died I wasn’t the only mama who had to open the door to a police officer with the news every parent fears. Mamas around the world bury their children.   Many because of hunger, or for lack of clean water or the most basic healthcare.

Last night many died because of violence.

In our hyper-connected world, it is so easy to become numb, to become hard.  I can shut down and shut out the things I don’t want to hear, don’t want to think about.

But it doesn’t make them go away.  

So I ask for grace to care.  To love.  To pray–not only for the victims of the violence, but for the families of the perpetrators as well.

No one is so far away from God that His love and mercy can’t reach them still.  

“LORD, take my heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.  Make me tender-help me mourn.  Stir me to prayer and action.  Give me hands that reach for those who hurt and feet that rush in when others run away.  Fill my lips with words of life so that those who have lost hope will know that You are God.”

Life Goes On

Today James Michael turns twenty eight! Since May of last year, he graduated from Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, got married, trained and served as a deputy sheriff in West Virginia, moved twice, and joined the Air Force.  Just typing this leaves me breathless.

But it’s true:  life goes on.

Our surviving children have done a bang-up job of pushing through and moving forward even with the burden of grief weighing them down.

I don’t know how they do it.  

I have managed a few minor projects but am still unable to think beyond today.

I struggle to carry grief and plan ahead.

When you realize that your world can change in an instant, it seems silly to mark things out on a calendar as if paper and ink controlled the universe.

So I celebrate the days as they come and cling to the promise that God has a plan and purpose for this pain.  I place my heart in the hands of the One Who made it and trust that He will make it whole again.

 I rest in the reassurance that death is not victorious and the grave is not eternal.

 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! 

I Corinthians 15: 51-57 (MSG)

Grief Dance

Grief sways to a rhythm of its own.  Hard to follow, impossible to second guess.  I step on my toes trying to keep up and find 

that often I fall flat on my face.

When Dominic applied to the University of Alabama Law School, he had to submit a personal statement.  The idea was to give the selection committee insight into intangibles that might make a prospective student a good candidate for the program.

Dominic wrote about being a drummer.

He made the case that percussion is the heartbeat of music.  It marks the pace, leads the way.  If a drummer misses a beat, it can throw the whole band into confusion.

My life as a bereaved mother feels like music that can’t find its way.

There is melody and harmony and sometimes sweet singing–but I can’t discern a rhythm and I don’t know where it’s going. Discord clangs loudly in the background.

These years were supposed to be the ones where I swayed instinctively in well-worn paths to familiar tunes.

Not ones in which I had to learn a brand new step to a song I don’t even like.

But dance I must, so I do my best to move to this broken rhythm.

A Spoonful of Sugar

“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…’~Mary Poppins

It’s a wonderful thought–that even the bitterest medicine can be made tolerable by a tiny taste of sweetness.  But it’s not true.

Some things are too hard to swallow no matter how you try to disguise them.

Losing  a child is one of them.

I have been a student of the Bible for decades-I take Scripture seriously, believe it with my whole heart and trust that the truth it contains is necessary and sufficient for this life and the life to come.  But when Dominic died, I found I was forced to look again at verses I thought I understood.

There is no easy answer for why children die–no sweet saying that can wash away the pain and the sorrow and the regret of burying your son.

But I know this:  if my healing depends on me, I am lost.

If the God of heaven is not the God of all, then I have no hope.

If Jesus didn’t really come, and die and rise again, I have nothing to look forward to.

Ann Lamott recounts this tale in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

“There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”

I can’t paste a Bible verse on my broken heart like a Band-aid on a skinned knee–the wound is too great and the damage too extensive.

So I will wait for the holy words to fall inside.