Decisions, Decisions-The Complicated Everyday World of Child Loss

Sometimes I wonder why in the world am I so exhausted?

Why does it drain me to go to the grocery store?

Why do I have to gird my loins as if going into battle to make a phone call or a doctor’s appointment or to handle the normal, pesky details of living?

THIS. This is why:  Every single thing I do or say is complicated now.  No simple answers, no easy, breezy interactions with strangers.

I weigh every word, strategically plan each stop on my shopping route and choose carefully when and where to meet a friend for lunch.

Nothing is simple.

One of the things I’ve been forced to embrace in the wake of child loss is that there are very few questions, experiences or feelings that are simple anymore.

“How many children do you have?”

A common, get-to-know-you question lobbed across tables, down pews and in the check-out line at the grocery store.  But for many bereaved parents, it can be a complex question that gets a different answer depending on who is asking and where we are.

I decided from the beginning that I would say, “four” in answer to that query.

But that doesn’t always get me off the hook.  A follow-up of, “Oh, what do they do?” means that I have to make a decision:  do I go down the line, including Dominic in any kind of detail or do I gloss over the fact that one of my children now lives in heaven?

Read the rest here:  It’s Complicated

Step Back, Don’t React

It is possible not to react to every single thing someone says or does.  It is possible to scroll past social media posts that get under your skin and not look back.  It is possible to ignore a snarky comment or an unhelpful piece of advice from someone who ACTS like they know what you’re going through but really has. no. idea.  

Now if you are new on this journey, you will read these first few lines and think, “Is this woman crazy????” 

I felt EXACTLY the same way in the first months and even through the first couple years in this Valley.

But, I will tell you this:  the sooner you can embrace the habit of practicing the pause, the sooner you will begin to feel like you have some control in your world again.

And isn’t that one of the things we crave after the tsunami of child loss sweeps over our lives-order, control, a sense of purpose and direction?

It’s hard. 

Really, really hard not to react against every arrow shot into my wounded heart.  Even when I know it was an accident and the offense is collateral damage, it still hurts.

But I’ve found that if I just take a single, deep breath I can put a bit of distance between the oomph of the impact and my reaction.  And there is actually power in choosing to ignore offense.

Because then I am in control, not the person lobbing the arrows. 


So what do I do in the split-second it takes to draw in that preparatory breath?  I consider the source.  I think (quickly) about my ongoing relationship with this person, what’s happening in THEIR life and why they might have said or done what they said or did.

Is it ignorance?  Is it sloppy choice of words?  Is it due to stress in his life?  Is she just worn out and not thinking?

And I decide:  is reacting to THIS particular exchange worth damaging the relationship?

Is it worth the negative emotional energy that I will have to expend?

Is it something I can overlook and move past?

Most of the time the answer is, “yes”.  I CAN let it go.  It’s not that big of a deal.  It is not a fair representation of our relationship and it is certainly not worth ruining a friendship.

I’m not just doing THEM  a favor.  I’m doing ME a favor.

choose to respond

I’m not “letting them off the hook”.  I may actually revisit the issue later on, when emotions aren’t running high. 

But I have learned that I only have so much emotional energy to expend in this Valley.  So much of it is already absorbed in carrying the missing and sorrow and reining in my own outrageous feelings that I just don’t need to waste the rest on trivial things.

So I don’t (most of the time). 

Practicing the pause helps me do that. 

It gives me control. 

There is far too little of that this side of child loss.

So I will take what I can get. 

boundaries control react

Grief and Self-Care: Surviving the Unthinkable

My first instinct as a mother and a shepherd is always, “How can I help?”

I routinely set aside my own needs for the needs of others.  Not because I’m so selfless but because that’s how I’m made-I’ve always had the heart of a caretaker.

That’s not a bad thing, most of the time.

But if taking care of others means NOT taking care of myself, then in the end, I’m of no use to anyone.  When I allow every bit of energy-emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual-to drain away until there’s nothing left, I am unable to meet my most basic needs, much less the needs of others.

I’ve written before that grief puts a hole in my bucket It guarantees that no matter how much is poured in, I’m never truly full.

I’ve also written about setting boundaries and trying to preserve margin as I walk this Valley.  I have to create space between me and the people around me if I’m going to make it through.

But there are some other steps I can take to help ensure my heart is strong enough for the journey.  It’s not always about what I don’t do.

Sometimes it’s about what I choose TO do.

Here are some ideas for self-care in grief (or really ANY hard place in life):

  • Be patient with yourself.  There is no time frame for grief.  Each heart is unique.  Extend grace to yourself, just as you would to a friend.  Try not to take on extra responsibilities.  It’s better to allow for some flexibility in obligations during this time (even around holidays!).no timetable for grief
  • Listen to your body and your heart: If you need to cry, then cry. If you need to sleep, then do so. If you need to talk to someone, seek out someone who will listen. If you need to reminisce, then take the time. It is important for the grieving process that you go with the flow.
  • Lower expectations for yourself and communicate this new reality to others. You are not able to operate as you did before loss.  Your capacity for interacting with others, managing tasks and being available for the needs of others has been dramatically altered.  Own up to it, and let others know that it will be some time before you can shoulder the responsibilties you once did.
  • Let others know what you need from them.  No one is a mind reader.  While we who are bereaved think our needs are obvious, it’s simply not the case.  Communicate to family and friends how they can support you.
  • Accept the help of others. Understand that grief is hard work. It requires a great deal of energy and can be exhausting. Even though we place a high value on self-sufficiency, it is important to ask for, and accept, help from those close to you. Others careand genuinely want to be of assistance, but usually do not know what to specifically offer. In particular, it is vital to know who will listen and be supportive. Sharing your story out loud is one key to healing. And, remember that professional guidance is also available
  • If you need counseling, get it!  There is NO shame in asking for help. Get all the support you need. There are many bereavement support groups as well as counselors or spiritual advisors who specialize in bereavement counseling. Don’t hesitate to contact a medical and or mental health specialist if you have feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.emotions-faces
  • Accept your feelings. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are. Sadness, loneliness, fear, confusion, anger—these are among the many feelings you may experience, and are completely normal. Emotions are often raw early in the grief process, but it is important to express them. Attempting to stifle feelings usually leads to an emotional outburst at an inconvenient time.
  • Face your feelings. The painful emotions associated with grief are a natural and normal response to loss. You can try and suppress them or hide from them all you want but in the end this will only prolong the grieving process. Acknowledging your pain and taking responsibility for your feelings will help you avoid the complications often associated with unresolved grief such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
  • Express your feelings. The most effective way to do this is through some tangible or creative expression of your emotions such as journalling, writing a letter expressing your apologies, forgiveness and the significant emotional statements you wish you had said, or art projects celebrating the person’s life or what you lost.
  • Keep a journal.  Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you to validate and work through your grief.
  • Feel whatever you feel. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at God, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, or to let go when you’re ready. Your grief is your own and no one can tell you when you should be “over it” or when to “move on.”
  • Pay attention to physical needs. It’s easy to ignore your health when all you want to do is give up and give in.  However, it is even more important NOW to take care of yourself.  Eat balanced meals (set an alarm if you have to), try to get adequate rest (get medication if you need to) and make sure to get in some physical activity every day (set a timer if necessary).
  • Get physical exercise.  If you exercised prior to your loss, try to maintain the same routine. If you did not exercise prior to your loss visit your doctor before embarking on a physical exercise routine. Physical exercise can improve the way you feel.
  • exercise and mental health
  • Eat right and get enough sleep.  Maintaining a healthy diet and getting proper sleep is essential for functioning as well as you can. If you are having difficulty with either, visit your doctor.
  • Be aware of short-term relievers – these can be food, alcohol/drugs, anger, exercise, TV, movies, books, isolation, sex, shopping, workaholism, etc. Most of these things are not harmful in moderation but when used to cover-up, hide or suppress our grief they get in the way of the work grief requires.
  • Take the time to do the things you need to do for yourself.  When you feel up to it, engage in activities to which you feel drawn. It could be visiting a place you haven’t been to in a while, walks in nature, reading, etc.
  • Pamper yourself. Treat yourself well. Do things for yourself that are helpful like walks, being with people who are nurturing to you, and inexpensive activities

Grief is a lifelong process-a marathon, not a sprint.  

Maintaining space to do the work grief requires and engaging in activities and health habits that help me do that work is the only way to endure.  

physical mental well being


Sunrise, Sunset

It’s my habit to watch the sunrise and the sunset every day.

I usually greet the morning in my rocking chair, looking out my east-facing picture window.  It never gets old to watch darkness chased away by relentless light rising over the tops of trees.

sunrise trees


Every. Time.

Sunset is a little trickier.

I don’t have a clear view of the west from inside my house and the western edge of my property is peppered with tall trees so I usually only see the beginning of the end of every day.  But one of my favorite things to do is watch the golden glow of lingering light touch the tops of the highest pines and then slip away as the sun sinks below the horizon.

Another day has come and gone.

time-travelAnd the days become weeks that become months that become years.


Sometimes the days are long. 

But the years are short.

Some days bring news I don’t want to hear.  Some bring shouts of rejoicing. Either way I’m not the keeper of my days.  The sun neither rises nor sets at my bidding.

But I have choices in the daylight hours.  I can work while the sun is shining or I can worry that it might set soon.

I can take advantage of the light or I can wring my hands anticipating the darkness.

I am not naive. 

I wish I were. 

I wish I didn’t know by experience how much a heart can long for days gone by, days wasted, days that could have held more love and laughter but were overshadowed by worry or hurry or just indifference.


So I watch the sunrise to remind me that TODAY is a gift.  And I watch the sunset to remind me that the gift of today is gone forever.

What have I done with it?  Who have I loved?  Where have I placed my energy and purpose and hope?  

Every day is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  

I never want to forget that.  


Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

~Sheldon Harnick

Transforming Pain

I have had my share of pain in life-physical, emotional and psychological. 

Some of it I’ve brought on myself and some of it has been thrust upon me.  

None of it was pleasant.

But by far the most excruciating pain I have endured is the death of my son.  If someone could have induced this pain for five minutes as a preview before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I would have sworn I couldn’t have withstood it for five minutes more.

Yet here I am not just minutes or months but years later.  Still standing.

How?  By the grace of God and by choosing to transform that pain into something besides just pain.

I cannot ignore the pain.  It has changed me. But I won’t let it dominate me. 

Instead I let is goad me into being a better me than I might have been if my heart were whole and unbroken.

I am gentler, more eager to listen to hurting hearts.  I am less likely to judge others and more likely to lend a helping hand.  I am committed to walk gently through this life and to cause as little harm as possible and bring as much joy as is mine to give.

I definitely walk with a limp. 

But I won’t let it stop me from walking. 




Being There: No Substitute For Showing Up

I totally get itwe are ALL so busy.

Calendars crammed weeks and months in advance and no white space left over to pencil in lunch with a friend even though we desperately NEED it.

It seems impossible to make that call, write that note or stop by and visit a few minutes.

How can I meet my obligations if I use precious time doing the optional?

But when the unexpected, unimaginable and awful happens, suddenly that calendar and all those appointments don’t matter.  Balls drop everywhere and I don’t care.

Because when your family or best friend needs you, you come-no questions asked.

You toss a few necessities in your carry-on, lock the door, unplug the coffee pot and RUN.

You connect that phone to the car charger and dial away as you drive down the road.

And you show up.

Because when someone needs you, REALLY needs you, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for presence.

And the world keeps spinning.

All those “important” commitments cluttering my calendar are still there.  But a few phone calls later and they are easily rearranged. Medicine refills can be sent almost anywhere.  Church responsibilities can be shouldered by someone else.  Social dates can be rescheduled.

The only thing that matters is being exactly where your heart tells you it needs to be for exactly as long as you need to be there.

But you don’t have to wait until it’s an emergency to show up.

If it can wait if it HAD to, then it can wait.

You will not be going over a “to do” list with your last breath.

Choose to make people a priority right now-you might not get a second chance,

cant change the beginning but can change the ending




Costly Obedience

If the only place you get your food is the grocery store with overflowing shelves and more choices than any one person truly needs, then this verse won’t mean much to you.

If you’ve never depended on a homemade pantry stocked with home-canned jars for your winter supply, it’s hard to understand.

But if you’ve ever had to choose between putting that last bit of corn into the ground or into your mouth, you won’t have any trouble imagining the tears that flow as you place each kernel beneath the dirt with a prayer begging for a bumper crop.

And then you wait.

Because only the planting in faith is MY business.  The growing is God’s.

Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears,
    will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared.
  Those who weep as they walk
    and plant with sighs
Will return singing with joy,
    when they bring home the harvest.

Psalm 126:5-6 VOICE

In dark and burdensome seasons of life, I am tempted to cling tightly to what I can hold in MY hand instead of clinging tightly in faith to the One Who holds me in HIS hand.

Sowing in tears is choosing to walk obediently even when obedience is costly and there is no visible evidence that it will produce a good result.

There may be a long wait-perhaps my entire lifetime-to see the harvest of choosing obedience in faith.

But there WILL be a harvest.

He guarantees it.

And then the tears will turn to JOY.

sow in tears 2