Animal Therapy: Meet Tilly

I got a new kitten the other day.

For those of you following along, it’s not like I needed another animal in my personal zoo.

But my precious companion, Roosevelt , died in April. 

roosevelt in box on table spring 2017

Which was just in time to make the anniversary of Dominic going to Heaven, his funeral and his birthday harder since I didn’t have my favorite cat’s calming presence in my lap when grief overwhelmed me.

Once all the family festivities died down (seeing our grandson, celebrating our daughter’s wedding) I realized I really needed another cuddle bug.

My two other indoor cats are giants-great at hanging close to me but lousy at sitting in my lap.

So, meet Miss Tilly the Kitty.  

Tilly under kitchen chair 6_16_19Isn’t she the cutest? 

I’m trying to do on purpose what I did by accident with Roosevelt.

I’m working on orienting her to me, getting her comfortable being held and training her as a good traveler on the cart and in the car.  I need her to sleep next to me in the bed at least until I fall asleep.

So far, so good.  

After one day going around with me to feed in the morning, she’s no longer afraid of anything except the donkeys’ loud greeting.  (Which could make a grown man jump if he didn’t expect it!)

She makes me laugh.  She runs like a bat out of you-know-where between the living room, kitchen and dining room.  She’s entertains me and herself for nearly an hour at a time by rolling a  jingle bell ball around on the floor.

And she’s been really good company. 

As I’m typing this, she climbed in my lap which is exactly what I want her to do.  She lies down with me at night and sleeps so hard I can reposition her like a limp dishrag.  That’s what Roosevelt used to do,so I’m hopeful.  I’ve slept better the past few nights than I have since he died.

Today Tilly finally convinced one of the big cats to play with her a little.  The other one just shakes his head and walks away.  I’m calling them the “bachelor uncles” because all they really want out of life is a routine that includes plenty of food and peace and quiet.  I think they are not pleased I’ve brought this young whipper snapper into their previously predictable home.

 

moonshine and lightening grown in my chair faces

They’ll adapt.

Eventually.  

As for me, I’m enjoying the animal therapy.  

tilly on my knees and computer june 19

Repost: Ask Me. Please.

I have been guilty of this more times than I ‘d like to admit. 

I assume someone else’s feelings mirror my own and act on that assumption by withdrawing or not showing up or “giving them space”.

But the problem is, most times, on reflection, I realize my action (or inaction) was really all about sparing my own feelings  or staying within my own comfort zone.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

~Jeremiah 17:9 NIV

So I’m learning to ask hard questions.

Read the rest here:  Ask Me, Please.

Repost: 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!

Read the rest here:  What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

Why We Turn Away From Hurting Hearts

The news goes out over Facebook, over phone lines, over prayer chains and everyone shows up.

Crowds in the kitchen, in the living room, spilling onto the lawn.

It’s what you do.

And it’s actually the easiest part.  Lots of people, lots of talking, lots of activity keep the atmosphere focused on the deceased and the family.  The conversation rarely dips to deeper waters or digs into harder ground:  “Where was God?”;  “Why him?”;  “Why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people?”

But eventually the busyness and noise gives way to stillness and silence.

That’s when the harder part starts.

Read the rest here:  Why Do We Turn Away?

I Know Why My Story Scares You

At first all I could feel was pain.

Pain of abandonment, of being misunderstood, of being pushed to the outside edges of groups that used to welcome me with open arms.

But as time passed, I began to understand.

My story scares you.  You are utterly afraid that if child loss can happen to ME, it can happen to YOU.

You’re right.

It CAN happen to you.

And no one wants to be reminded that the one thing every parent fears is not nearly as impossible nor as predictable as we would hope it is.

From the minute we take that baby home from the hospital, safely tucked in the approved and properly installed car seat, we assume we can control the future.  We think that if we eat right, get regular check ups, cover outlets and sharp corners, remove choking hazards and stuff that little mouth full of organic and healthful treats, it’s all good.

Except no one can account for random.  No one can see undetected and unsuspected genetic defects.  No one can predict or protect against every way a child might leave this life before his or her parents.

But we absolutely, positively do not want to think about that.

I don’t blame you.

I didn’t either.

So I understand why you distance yourself from me.  I get why even my presence in a room is sometimes uncomfortable.  I am not upset that you don’t add my name to the invitation list when the occasion is happy and you are afraid I might cast a shadow over the celebration.

I’m a walking advertisement for your worst nightmare.

You can afford to ignore it-and me.

I don’t have that luxury.

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

 

Fix It Or Forget It: Why Unfinished Stories Make Others Uncomfortable

Attention spans are shorter than ever.

It’s easy to understand why.  We live in a world full of sound bytes, memes, tweets and T-shirt slogans.

But life can’t be reduced to such little snippets, even if we wish it could.

Not every biography has the perfect “beginning, middle, end” arch that makes for a good and satisfying story.

Some of us can’t tie up our experiences in tidy boxes, with colorful bows and a lovely tag line that inspires thousands.

gift box with bow

We are living unfinished, messy, hard stories that keep shifting, changing and require us to face mountain after mountain and valley after valley.

And we stumble. 

A lot.

I suppose it’s tiresome for our friends to have to slow down, turn around, bend down and help us get back up over and over and over.

Many of our compassionate companions turn into personal trainers at some point:  “You can do it!  Try harder! Push farther!  You’ve got to work at it!  Don’t give up!  Come on, don’t you want to get stronger, fitter, better????”

personal trainer

The hidden message?  If I wanted to badly enough, would try hard enough, work long enough or get the right help, I could “fix” this.  I could emerge from child loss whole, healed and healthy.

And when I don’t, they get frustrated, disgusted or just plain bored and leave me lonely on the trail.  They walk away and forget-because they CAN forget.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  If you think it’s hard to watch your friend struggle with a broken heart, a shattered life, doubts and regrets, it’s harder to live it.

 

You can walk away.  I can’t.  You can go home, close the door and think of something else.  I go home, close the door and am flooded with thoughts, emotions and overwhelming grief.

mixed stages of grief

 

If I could “fix it” don’t you think I would?

But I can’t.

I will continue to have a messy, untidy, unfinished life this side of Heaven.

And I will keep climbing, struggling and stumbling.

Will you stick around and walk with me?

Or will you walk away?

walking-up-a-hill

 

 

Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families

I firmly believe that our friends and extended family want to reach out, want to help, want to walk alongside as we grieve the death of our child

 I am also convinced that many of them don’t because they don’t know how.  

It may seem unfair that in addition to experiencing our loss, we also have to educate others on how to help us as we experience it, but that’s just how it is.

The alternative is to feel frustrated and abandoned or worse.  

So here’s a list of helpful tips (and a great infographic!) for interacting with bereaved families:  

Express condolences and show you care. Don’t avoid me, please!  You cannot make me any sadder.  I need to hear from you.

friends hugging

Refer to my child by name.  Dominic is STILL my son.  He is still part of my story.  But because he’s no longer visible, his name often goes unspoken.  Please talk to me about him, use his name, tell me a story of how he impacted your life or a memory that makes you smile.  It makes me smile too.

Actively listen and be supportive.  It’s hard to listen to someone tell you how much they are hurting and not offer advice or think of ways to “fix” them.  I can tell you from experience that what I need most on my darkest days is for someone to say, “It IS dark.  I’m so sorry.”  Silence is OK too.  Not every quiet moment needs to be filled with chatter.

listening is a postive act

Understand that each family and family member will grieve in different ways.  You may have observed child loss before but what you saw in one family may not translate to the next.  There are no hard and fast rules for this awful journey.  The age of the child, family background and structure, manner of death-all these impact grief.  In addition, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers all bring their personalities, stage of life, beliefs and experiences to the journey.  There were five of us left behind when Dominic ran ahead.  We were each devastated but expressed it in very different ways.  Nearly five years later, those gaps have widened, not narrowed.

Fathers grieve too.  Sometimes support focuses almost exclusively on the mother.  In part because of a common notion that mothers are somehow emotionally closer to their children than dads.  In part because many men are less demonstrative and may do a good job hiding grief.  Whatever the reason, don’t assume one parent is dealing “better” with the loss than another (mother or father) just because he (or she) is not crying openly.  No one escapes this awful blow unscathed.

bereaved fathers

Don’t overlook siblings.  Surviving siblings are sometimes referred to as “forgotten grievers”.  If they are very young, people may think they are relatively unaffected by the death of a brother or sister. If they are grown and out of the home, people may figure that the siblings’ own, very full and very busy, lives keep them preoccupied.  While some of that may be true-to an extent-most surviving siblings are deeply impacted by the death of a brother or sister, regardless of age.  Not only have they lost a member of the family and changed birth order, they have also lost the family they knew, the parents they knew and a co-keeper of memories and secrets.  Bereaved parents are often overwhelmed with grief for their living children as well as the child that is missing. One of the best gifts anyone gave me was reaching out to my surviving children.  It helped my heart to know that they had friends who were supporting and loving them well.

kids cartoon

Be yourself.  People often feel awkward and stiff when approaching a bereaved parent or family member.  That’s perfectly understandable.  The bereaved seem so fragile (are so fragile!) that folks are afraid the wrong word or touch might shatter them into a thousand pieces.  But what your friend or family needs right now is the you they’ve always known and loved.  If you are a hugger, hug!  If you are a storyteller, tell stories (appropriate ones, ones of the missing child).  If you are a cook and cleaner, then cook and clean.  Our family was blessed by our friends doing exactly what they had always done-come alongside in their own special way.  So much had changed in our world that familiar touchstones, familiar routines and familiar faces were a real comfort.

Keep in mind words matter.  Now is not the time to try to satisfy your curiosity about exactly “what happened”.  Loud joking is rarely welcome.  Many bereaved families find it hard to laugh in the first days, weeks, months because it feels like betrayal.  Don’t offer platitudes intended to help them “look on the bright side” or consider that “it could be worse”.  There is nothing worse than burying your child.  Nothing.  Listen and take direction from the person you are comforting.  Follow his or her lead.  And if something less than helpful slips out, own it and apologize.

pencil-drawing-bereaved-mother

It’s never too late to reach out.  NEVER.  Sometimes people stay away at first for lots of reasons.  Or they show up for the memorial service and then fade into the background.  After a bit, even if they want to reach out, they may feel embarrassed by the long absence.  Don’t be.  So many people stop calling, visiting and texting within the first weeks that your outstretched hand of friendship will be a welcome beacon of hope.  If you need to, apologize for your absence.  Be honest.  Admit you were scared or whatever.

Then show up. 

Stick around.

You don’t have to be perfect.  

Just be present.  

bereaved families infographic