Child Loss: A Letter to My Living Children

I never thought it possible to love you more than I already did.

But I do.

photo (20)

Your brother’s untimely departure has opened my heart in a whole new way to the glory that is your presence.  It has made me drink you in like water in the desert.

No more do I take even a moment for granted.  Never again will I be “too busy” to listen to you, to hug you, to greet you on the porch when you decide to make your way back home.

Read the rest here:  A Letter To My Living Children*

Should I Let My Young Children See Me Cry?

This was not my experience-all my children were adults when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven-but so many grieving parents want to know:  Should I let my younger children see me cry?

How much is too much for them to witness, process and hear?

Do I need to shield them from the awful truth of how much this hurts?  CAN I shield them?

It depends.

May I first say that there is NO way to shield even an infant from the overflowing emotions, stress and strain of child loss in his or her family.  If we stop and think about it, we know this.  And older children may look like they aren’t paying attention, but they are.

mother and child painting

So the question is not really, “Can I shield them” but is instead, “How do I help them understand what’s happening”?

Grief in this life is inevitable. 

Allowing our children to watch us grieve helps them understand how it’s done.  When we share openly, we give them tools and models for sharing too.

I think it’s important to be honest with even the youngest among us. 

When a parent speaks of the deep pain of loss, expresses love for the missing ones and looks longingly at photos and mementos, he or she is saying to the watching child: “Love lives.  Love is important.  Love lasts even when our bodies don’t.  I will always love you just like I love your brother (or sister).”

grief only exists where love lived first

Young children will create their own script if adults don’t help them write one.

Because their minds are not fully developed, they will often connect odd bits into an unhealthy whole.  Just as some children decide they are responsible for their parents’ divorce, some surviving siblings think that a random act of disobedience resulted in the death of a sister or brother.

And if a parent is modeling secrecy or a stiff upper lip, that child may never reveal her dark and weighty secret.

We can help our children by providing a safe space where they can express themselves freely without fear of correction or being silenced.  It might get ugly.  Our grief gets ugly.  It’s part of the process.

But children should never become the burden bearers for adults.

Crying in front of your child is OK.  Screaming, yelling, blaming and violence is not. 

No child should feel threatened or unsafe in his own home.  If you are out of control, THAT is the time to go to a room and close the door.  Or call a friend to come get the kids so you have a few hours alone.  Or send them outside to play.  It is NOT the time to unload on your surviving child(ren).

I wish that grief was not part of life.

But it is.  

How I deal with it, what I say about it, when and how I express it will impact my children for good or ill.  

I want to offer them tools they can use and build resilience for what they may face in the future.  

Letting them see me-especially the grieving me-is an important part of that process.  

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

 

When Your First Thought Is, “Oh No, Not Again!”

Last night I woke to my youngest son’s ringtone at nearly midnight.

I missed the call but when I looked, realized it was the third time he’d tried.  

My heart skipped several beats as I dialed him back only to have it go directly to voicemail.  I tried again and a second later, he answered.

“What’s wrong??!!!”

(Because he never calls me late at night unless something is wrong!)

Julian was downstairs at the front door and needed me to let him in because he’d received some odd texts from his dad- a series of random letters and emojis scrolled across his screen.

He’d tried to call him.  No answer. 

Tried texting him back.  No message except more of the same random letters and images.  

So he drove over from his house just a few miles away, the whole time running a dozen scenarios through his head.

  • “Is dad having a stroke? Mom is asleep upstairs and won’t know.”
  • “Is someone in the house and dad’s only able to randomly swipe his thumb on the screen trying to ask for help?”
  • “Why won’t mom answer her phone?  Do they have her too?”

Five miles and ten minutes is a lifetime when all you can think of is another family member needing help- or worse.  

As I was coming downstairs to let Julian inside, my husband woke up and asked me what was wrong.  We got to the door at the same moment and let our big, burly bear of a son inside.

It took him a split second to realize that all was well and then it poured outthe fear, the panic, the intense self-control necessary not to simply break down the door and barge in, the pent up grief that lives inside each one of us since Dominic left and is always about to spill out and over when we think of another loss.  

He melted into his dad’s arms.  

This is how our hearts are wired since that morning nearly five years ago. 

When the thing you never think will happen, happens, it becomes the first thing you think of when you can’t get in touch with someone. 

Panic is always a breath away.  

family never gets over the death of a loved one

 

Why It’s So Important to Model Grief For Our Children & Grandchildren

It’s tempting to try to hide our tears and fears from our living children and grandchildren.  

Who wants to overload a young heart and mind with grown-up problems?

There is definitely a place and time to shelter little people-it’s never appropriate to offload onto small shoulders what we just don’t want to carry ourselves.

But it is neither helpful nor healthy to pretend that sorrow and sadness don’t follow loss.  

im fine now read it upside down

When I stuff feelings and insist on keeping a “stiff upper lip” I’m telling my kids that it’s not OK to admit that they are struggling.

When I act like it’s no big deal to set up the Christmas tree and deck the halls without their brother here, I’m encouraging them to remain silent instead of speaking up if their hearts are heavy instead of happy.

When I never voice my discomfort with certain activities or social events I am modeling a false front and fake smiles.  

Of course, there are times we all have to suck it up and suck it in along this path.  But that shouldn’t be the norm.  As I’ve said over and over before-if we stuff our hearts full of unreleased feelings, we leave no room for the grace and mercy God wants to pour into them.

I can tell you that many, many folks have interviewed surviving siblings years and decades after their brother or sister left and have consistently discovered that most of them tried hard to live up to whatever standards their grieving parents set. 

If Mom and Dad refused to talk about the loss, then they refused to talk about it too.  If, on the other hand, the family observed open communication, they were able to process feelings in real time instead of stuffing and having to deal with them later.

family never gets over the death of a loved one

One of the greatest challenges in child loss (or any profound loss) is creating space within our closest grief circle to allow each person affected to express themselves whatever that looks like.  

But it’s so, so important!  

Don’t hide your tears.  

Don’t shut down the questions.  

Don’t lock away the uncertainty and anxiety child loss brings in a trunk and only bring it out when no one’s watching.  

Because the little people (and not so little people) in your house are ALWAYS watching.  

They need permission to grieve.  ❤

Capacity-to-grieve

When You Feel Like You Can’t Breathe: Setting Living Children Free

A couple weeks ago I walked away from my son’s house, after kissing him goodbye and prayed under my breath that it won’t be the last time I see his bright eyes and lively smile.

Because when you’ve mistakenly waved a cheery “see you later” to your child, ignorant that it’s the LAST time, your heart never takes these moments for granted again.

I drink in the laugh lines around his 30 year old eyes, wondering if mine had laugh lines at that young age as well.

james 30 birthday

I make a mental record of the timbre of his voice, the set of his shoulders, the way he laughs.

I cannot get enough of him- like a parched woman in the desert-trying to quench a thirst that simply cannot be filled.

He’s off to an adventure and I refuse to squelch his enthusiasm.

james at pikes peak

I’ve buried one son and part of my heart begs me to set up barricades and safe zones around the rest of my children.

But the truth is, I can’t.  There is no way to guarantee safety in this world.  And if I try to circumscribe their lives, all I will gain is a false sense of control and a strained relationship.

So I open my hand.  

Open my heart.  

Take a deep breath.

Pray for grace and mercy.

And let go.  

james and me yellow shirt 2015

Remembering the Ones Left Behind: Grieving Siblings

I realized the morning I received the news that an important part of my work as a grieving parent was going to be protecting and advocating for my living children.

It’s just so easy to fall into a habit of reciting only the good attributes of the child that has run ahead to heaven and to forget the ornery moments.

But sibling rivalry doesn’t die just because a sibling does.

It’s so, so important to remember that these living children need an engaged mama.  They need to know that they are loved, cherished and treasured.

I am always afraid that Dominic will be forgotten.  

I’m afraid that as time passes, things change and lives move forward, his place in hearts will be squeezed smaller and smaller until only a speck remains.

Not in my heart, of course.

Or in the hearts of those closest to him, but in general-he will become less relevant.

But he is not the only one who can be forgotten.  I am just as fearful that my living children will be forgotten.

Read the rest here:  The Forgotten Ones: Grieving Siblings

It’s a New Chapter, NOT the End of the Book

Here they come. 

It’s time for the First Day of School photo contests on social media. Shot after shot  of little ones and not-so-little ones posing with new book bags and new clothes holding a chalkboard sign that indicates their grade.

And then the pictures of college freshmen toting boxes into dorm rooms, waving good-bye to mom and dad, beginning their adult lives unfettered by curfews and parental oversight.

Then the laments, “I can’t believe they are growing up!”

I hear you, mama.  It IS a challenge to watch them grow up.  But you aren’t really saying,  “good-bye”.

I see it from an entirely different perspective.

Read the rest here:  It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over