What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.  

In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”

It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group.  After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.

But, oh, when I did! What relief!  What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!

me too sharing the path

I have learned so much from these precious people.  

Here’s a few of the nuggets of wisdom I carry like treasure in my heart:  

Everyone has a story.  No one comes to tragedy a blank slate.  They have a life that informs how or if they are able to cope with this new and terrible burden.  Not everyone has the same resources I do-emotional, spiritual or otherwise.  Don’t put expectations on someone based on my own background.  Be gracious-always.  

Everyone deserves to be heard.  Some folks really only have one or two things that they insist on saying over and over and over again.  That’s OK.  If they are saying them, it’s because they need to be heard.  Lots of folks do not have a safe space to speak their heart.  But it’s only in speaking aloud the things inside that we can begin to deal with them.

Everyone (or almost everyone) is worried that they aren’t doing this “right”.  Society brings so much pressure to bear on the grieving.  “Get better”, “Get over it”, “Move on”.  And when we can’t, we think there is something dreadfully wrong with us.  But there isn’t.  Grief is hard and takes time no matter what the source.  But it is harder and takes a lifetime when it’s your child.  Out of order death is devastating.  “Normal” is anything that keeps a body going and a mind engaged in reality without being destructive to oneself or others.

Everyone can be nicer than they think they can.  Here’s the deal:  I THINK a lot of things.  I don’t have to SAY (or write!) them.  I’ll be honest, sometimes my first response to what someone shares is not very nice.  But when I take a breath and consider what might help a heart instead of hurt one, I can usually find a way to speak truth but also courage.  Snark is never helpful.  If I can’t say anything nice, then I just scroll on by.

Everyone has something to give.  I’ve learned that even the most broken, the most unlovely, the least well-spoken persons have something to offer.  It may take a little dusting off to find the beauty underneath, but my heart is stretched when I take time and put forth effort to truly listen to what’s being said instead of just ignoring it because of how it’s said.

Everyone deserves grace.  Because I am the recipient of grace, it is mine to give-without fear of running out-to every other heart I meet.  Sometimes I forget this.  I want to apply a different measure to others than I want applied to me.  But grace is the oil that greases human relationships.  Freely given and freely received, it provides a safe space for hearts to experience healing.

Everyone is standing on level ground when we gather at the foot of the cross.  There’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom.  We are all servants.  I am responsible to my Master for walking in love and doing the good works He has prepared beforehand for me to do.  My works are not your works and your works are not my works.  I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on others always trying to see if I(or they!) “measure up”.  The standard is our Shepherd and only grace and mercy can help me strive for that goal.

Everyone needs courage.  When Jesus gave His charge to the disciples He told them it was “better for you that I go”What??? How could that be better?  But it WAS.  Because when Jesus returned to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit as the personal, indwelt connection to Himself.  He knew they would need courage to make it through. The Spirit calls courage to our hearts.  And we are given the privilege of calling courage to one another.  The bravest among us quivers sometimes.  You’d be surprised how often one word is the difference between letting go and holding on.

There are dozens more things I could share.

I have met some of the kindest, wisest and most grace-filled people this side of child loss.

They have been the purest example of the Body of Christ I’ve ever known.  

I am thankful for what they are teaching me.

heart hands and sunset

How and Why I Keep Writing: A Shepherd’s Heart

I am still utterly amazed that since November 2015 I have managed a blog post every day.

At first, I was writing because I wanted to make public the things I was learning in this Valley and to honor my missing son.  

dominic at tims wedding

He had been in Heaven a year and a half by then and it was clear to this mama’s heart that (1) people (including ME before it WAS me!) had absolutely NO IDEA what life after child loss was like once the funeral was over;  (2) one way to redeem this pain was to share how God had been faithful even as I struggled; and (3) I just didn’t see too many honest portrayals of life after loss for Christ followers (which is not to say they didn’t/don’t exist but I hadn’t found them).

So I wrote.  

Then I realized (much to my surprise!) that there were mamas (and a few daddies) hanging on by such a tenuous thread to hope that my meager attempt at redeeming this pain was strengthening their grasp.

Then it became a ministry.

Shepherding is in my blood. 

I’ve been a shepherd my whole adult life-first to my own children and then to other children through various home school groups and activities.  Then God granted a desire of my heart when He allowed me to become  a “real” shepherd 20 years ago to a flock/herd of sheep and goats.

goat and mel on porch (2)

I’ve learned so, so much.  

I’ve learned that consistency is key. 

My herd depends on my faithful feeding and my peaceful presence.  They love routine and hate change.  They respond immediately to my voice and run straight to me when they are afraid.

They will endure nearly anything as long as they are assured it is from my loving hand.  

I am not able to shepherd every heart that reads this blog. 

But I hope that a bit of my shepherd’s love and care and compassion is present in each post.  

My desire is that consistency helps the hearts that congregate here every morning.  I long for my words to feed hope to you from time to time.  I pray that routine gives you something to look forward to even on the hard day.  I pray that I faithfully point you to the Shepherd of your soul who can provide shelter no matter where you are or what is chasing you.

sheperd

I pray that together we can endure and persevere and finish strong and well.  

I continue to write because I love you. 

I continue to write because if a single post reaches a single heart on the verge of giving up and helps that heart hold onto hope, then it is worth every minute I spend thinking about, composing and producing these posts.  

And, frankly, many of you have ministered hope to MY heart.  

hope holds a breaking heart together

Dom left for Heaven about when my nest became empty.  Thirty years of raising children and twenty-plus years of homeschooling came to an end right when my heart was dealt this grievous blow.

All the energy and time I had poured into shepherding my children was suddenly available for a new adventure at the very moment when adventure was the last thing on my mind.  

Sharing has turned survival into something beautiful.   

I am so thankful for that.

And I am oh, so grateful for each of you.

thank you

 

 

 

What Does it Mean to “Support” Someone?

Thank God for ADA requirements!

It wasn’t that many years ago when automatic doors were hard to find in places where they most certainly would have been helpful.

I remember approaching doors, arms full of bags and each hand grasping a child, hoping, hoping, hoping some nice person would be there to open it for me.

Many times there was.

Sometimes all I got was a glare and a sidestep from an empty-armed, able-bodied person.

I would manage to push the door open with my elbow but inside I was seething.

“Really?  Really!!  What makes you think getting out of the way is the same as opening the door?” 

(Thank goodness my thoughts are not displayed on an overhead sign! 🙂 )

In this Valley, I’ve discovered there is an emotional counterpart to the woman or fellow who refuses to actively help an overwhelmed mama.

There are those who see the burden I’m carrying and simply step aside.

I guess their rationale is that by not adding to the weight of my load, they somehow make it lighter. 

But it doesn’t work that way.  

As a matter of fact, knowing that my pain is seen but ignored is so much harder than thinking I’m just invisible.

Support means:

1. bear all or part of the weight of; hold up. 

2.  give assistance to; enable to function or act.

Support is going to cost you something.  It’s going to require action, time, energy, effort, commitment and resources. 

when the world whispers give up

I know it’s hard. 

Life is hard.  

But active, compassionate companionship is what knits hearts together no matter what struggle they are facing.  

And hearts that are bound by shared struggle and love are the strongest of all.  

friends uplift the soul little girl

 

 

Repost: Help! I Need Somebody!

So, almost twenty years on a farm and I can NOT back a trailer.  Nope.  Can’t do it.

One day I spent hours trying to teach myself how to do it.  Never was able to do anything other than manage to jackknife the trailer, go unhook it and start over.

So when I go somewhere with a trailer I do one of two things:  (1) I find a space where I can drive in and be able to just make a loop or (2) I find the nearest person who CAN back a trailer, hand them my keys and ask them to do it.

I feel NO shame.

But that’s not the case with other things I can’t do.

Read the rest here:  Help! I Need Somebody!

To The Ones Who Walk With Me: Thank You <3

I have never lived alone.

When I married at twenty I moved from my parents’ home to living with my new husband.

Within seven years of marriage, we had been joined by four precious children.

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

So even though I’m an introvert and crave quiet solitude, I’ve had precious little of it until the last couple of years.

Alone is good for many things.  It makes space to hear from God and to hear one’s own heart.

It can be a respite from the noise of our crazy, busy and LOUD world.

melanie and little bit

But alone is not the best way to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

If I isolate myself from others in this frightful place, darkness can overtake me.  My mind can embrace futility and hopelessness and convince my heart that there is no reason to push on.

There are songs that were never meant to be sung alone, valleys that were never meant to be walked alone. Grief is one of those valleys. And weeping is one of those songs.

~The North Face of God

Thankfully, I’ve not been alone on this journey. 

I’ve had beautiful family and friends who refused to leave me.  I’ve met amazing, brave bereaved parents who, even in their own grief, have lifted me up and spoken courage to my heart.

hhh retreat pics of kids (2)

And Godeven on the days when we haven’t been on speaking termshas not abandoned me. 

His faithful love endures forever.  His promises will not fail.  My name (just like Dominic’s!) is graven on His hands.

But He uses people to remind a heart of these promises and His love.

I will never be able to repay the people who have been “Jesus with skin on” to me! 

They are a gift,

a treasure,

a precious ointment to a wounded heart. 

friendship

 

Lessons in Grief: Learning to Listen

I admit it:  I’m a fixer.

It’s probably genetic (won’t mention any names!) but it has been reinforced by training and life experience.

When faced with a difficult or messy situation, my mind instantly rolls through an inventory of available resources and possible solutions.

And I tended to cut people off mid-sentence with my brilliant (?) plan to save the day.

But there are things you just can’t fix.

I knew that before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven but I mostly ignored it.

I can’t do that anymore.

heart leaf torn

 

So I’m learning to listen better.  Learning to let others express the hard things that can’t be fixed so that their burden is a bit lighter for the sharing.  I’m learning that silent hand holding or hugging or just looking someone in the eye instead of dodging their gaze is a great gift.

I’m learning that lending courage is possible.  One heart can actually beat in synchrony with another and the duet is musical and magical strength.

I’m learning that there are too many voices shouting “solution!” and too few ears listening to the full expression of a problem.

I’m learning that often my rush to remedy is hurtful, not helpful.

I’m learning that time does not heal all wounds-there are many among us bearing injuries that may be decades old but have never been spoken aloud because no one would listen.

we all need people who will listen to our stories

I’m learning that even the spoken stories need to be repeated often and with just as much emotion each time because the telling has a way of releasing pain all it’s own.  

I’m convinced that if we were a society of listeners who slowed down just long enough to really HEAR other people’s stories we’d be a society with much less pent up anger, bitterness and other dark emotions.

sometimes you can hurt yourself more by keeping feelings hidden

I’m embracing the old saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk”.  

Sometimes that means literally biting my tongue or placing my hand over my mouth.  

But I’m trying not to waste this hard-bought lesson.  

Need an ear?  

I’m here.  ❤

friends hugging

 

Don’t Let It Fool You

Whether the burden is child loss, abuse, chronic illness or some other ongoing and unchangeable hard circumstance, it’s easy to get so good at acting “OK” you can almost fool yourself.

But all that stress and struggle exacts a cost.

Pretending that it doesn’t is not helpful at all.

So it’s wonderful when people ask about it.

It’s a gift when they let us share.

Awhile back another loss mom wrote this and gave me permission to use it: 

In case you ever wonder, please know that it is always, always OK to ask me about [Dominic]. 

I love to talk about him.

No, I’m not OK.  I’ll probably cry, but it’s just because it’s under the surface always, not because you asked.

And I don’t really know what people mean when they say “she’s doing well,” because if you knew what all goes on in my mind and body from grief-well, frankly you couldn’t handle it.

But it’s OK to bring it up.

Talking helps.  ❤

im ok face fools myself