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

Little Ways Grief Changes Things

I accidentally dialed my son’s number the other night.  

All he heard amidst the noise of the baseball game he was attending was, “I’m sorry” which immediately put him in “oh no!” mode.  

A couple words later and he understood that what I was sorry for was interrupting him, not another tragedy that required a heart-wrenching, life-changing long distance phone call.

But that’s how it is now.  

The sheriff’s deputy came to my door and I had to make the awful phone calls.  

But so many of Dominic’s friends first suspected something was wrong when they couldn’t reach him by phone on that Saturday after he left us.  

I cannot abide the suspense of not being able to know for sure one of my precious family members is OK.

We carry our phones everywhere, silent to other calls when necessary but never to our “favorites” because we will not be unreachable.

If one of us calls another at an unexpected time, we begin with, “Nothing’s wrong!”

We have to or else hearts race, temples pound and it will be hours before we can come down from a state of heightened anxiety and near panic.  

We touch base every morning and most evenings. 

Like hands stretched out in the dark to comfort one another.

Just be be sure.  

Mind the Gap

My youngest son worked hard to retrieve some precious digital photos from an old laptop.

Being very kind, he didn’t tell me that we might have lost them until he was certain he had figured out a way to get them back.

So he and I had a trip down memory lane the other evening.

It was a bumpy ride.

Because for every sweet remembrance there was an equally painful realization that Dominic would never again be lined up alongside the rest of us in family pictures.

The British have a saying, “mind the gap” used to warn rail passengers to pay attention to the space between the train door and the platform.  It’s a dangerous opening that one must step over to avoid tripping, or worse.

I was reminded of that when I looked at those old pictures-my children are stair steps-averaging two years apart in age.

But now there will always be a gap between my second and fourth child-a space that threatens to undo me every time we line up for a picture.

I cannot forget that Dominic SHOULD be there.  I will never, ever be OK with the fact that he is missing.

To be honest, I miss him most when the rest of us are all together.  The space where he should be is highlighted because all the others are filled in.

No one else may notice, but I have to step carefully to keep from falling into a dark hole.

Mind the gap.

Be careful.

Don’t fall.

us at matts sunscreen

 

Mother’s Day 2018: A Letter to My Living Children

I wanted to do a version 2.0 of this post but felt like I couldn’t really add much to what I’ve already written.

So here it is again-a letter to the children still walking planet Earth with me.

You are every bit as important and loved as your brother that is waiting for us in Heaven.

I love you.

You are my breath, my life, my heart walking outside my body.  ❤

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.

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