Anxiety After Child Loss Is Real

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I would not have described myself as “anxious”.

Of course I had my moments, but anxiety ,panic or worry was not really something I experienced on a regular basis.  

That’s changed.  

Now I sometimes have to close my eyes when a family member is driving in traffic.   I clench my fists when in a crowd.  I can’t concentrate if too many people are talking at once and I cannot navigate unfamiliar roads while the radio is blaring.

Dominic’s sudden death destroyed my sense of safety and control. 

If my son could be healthy and alive one moment and dead the next, anything could happen.  

It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not, the anxiety I experience is very real and often debilitating.

What makes it worse is when friends and family minimize my feelings, mock my fear or dismiss it as foolish and stupid.

What helps is when friends and family choose to acknowledge my feelings and commit to compassionate companionship while I work through them.

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Grief Coping Strategy: Derailing A Negative Train of Thought

It happens most often when things are very quiet or I’m trying to drift off to sleep.  

My mind will rehearse the moment the doorbell rang, or the phone calls I had to make, or-worse yet-imagining what, exactly, Dominic experienced when he left the road and plowed through bushes until he was thrown from his motorcycle and died.

Once my thoughts begin to follow that track, it’s so hard to derail them.

It used to be absolutely impossible.

But now (at five years into this journey) I have some default visualizations that help me break unfruitful mental cycles.

I might imagine details from my childhood-recreating a room or an experience-or recite Scripture, hymns or poems.  Sometimes I force myself to delineate my next day’s tasks precisely and in order.

I am always very careful what I watch, read or meditate on before bedtime because if I plant a seed of fear or dystopia it flowers in my dreams.

And then there are the days when responsibilities lead me down memory lane-going through photos for my daughter’s wedding, consolidating boxes to make room for my husband’s retirement, hunting a particular item for the holidays or another family celebration-and I have a hard time not sinking into despair because Dom’s just not here.

But at five years those are no longer utterly uncontrollable feelings.

I’ve learned ways of diffusing, distracting and redirecting my thoughts to help me deal with them in the moment: 

  • If possible, I stop the activity that triggered the feelings or thoughts and switch to something else.  Sometimes just turning my back makes all the difference.
  • I focus on a non-triggering detail.  Shifting my eyes often shifts my thoughts.
  • If in a group of people, I force myself to listen to the conversations around me and ignore my own thoughts.
  • If alone, I speak the feeling/thought aloud.  Breaking the silence can break the cycle.

Then, (often) I’ll have a meltdown later, but at a time when I can afford it better.

I’ve said over and over that the absolute weight of this burden has not changed but my ability to carry it has grown through practice and doing the work grief requires.

Sorrow is no longer all I feel and my son’s absence is no longer all I see.

Every time I overcome my fear, I redirect my thoughts, I face my feelings and refuse to let them paralyze me, I’m stronger.

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Man Proposes, God Disposes

I learned this lesson years ago.  

As a matter of fact, I had a cute little picture on my fridge of a sinking ship that said. “Another day, another disaster”.  

That was before I had actually lived through disaster. 

Now it’s engraved on my heart as well as my mind.  

I think I’m in control.  I think my “to do” list determines a day.  I think I can set the alarm and set my agenda.

But I’m not.  It doesn’t and I can’t.  

loved by the one in control

Last week I was rocking and rolling, moving and grooving.  Making molehills out of mountains and working my list.

Today I’m sitting in my chair, heating pad on my back, barely able to move. 

My body hates me.  

This is the hardest part of chronic illness and lifelong grief-I want to be able to plan ahead, make progress, achieve momentum and finish tasks.  But I just can’t.  I can’t be sure when I go to bed that the next day is going to be anything like what I hope it will be.

If you think weather forecasts are unpredictable, they are solid compared to my life.

And while I absolutely, positively accede God is in control, is sovereign, does not answer to me or anyone else and can order my life and the world as He sees fit; I would love, love, love to have two days in a row that followed a pattern of positive progress.

dear stress lets break up

So I’m just a *little* bit frustrated.  

I know I need to adjust my expectations.  

I’m trying. 

Really.  

 

whenyoucan27tcontrolthewindadjustyoursails

Things I CAN Control

When I opened the door to that deputy and received the news, my world suddenly spiraled out of control.

Over the next days, weeks months I would have to do things I never imagined I might do and certainly things I did not WANT to do.  So, so much I couldn’t change.  So many ways I lost the right to choose.  

And I hated it!  

Wasn’t long and that sense of helplessness permeated every corner.  Even when it didn’t belong there.  I began to feel as if I couldn’t control anything.

So in many ways I stopped trying.  

But then one day I woke from the fog of despair.  I remembered that there WERE some areas of life where I could still make choices.

And it was empowering!  

So here’s a list that I pray gives hope to other hurting hearts.

THINGS I CAN CONTROL

  • My attitude (how I react to what others say or do)
  • My thoughts (with great difficulty sometimes)
  • My perspective (when I’m careful to fill my mind, heart and eyes with truth)
  • If I’m honest (about ALL things-including my feelings)
  • Who my friends are (from my end-can’t stop people from walking away)
  • What books I read (I am choosy and only read things that feed my soul)
  • What media I consume (stay away from toxic people, topics and television)
  • What type of food I eat (healthy, appropriate amounts)
  • How often I exercise (a walk, gentle yoga, online video routines)
  • How many risks I take (not just physical ones, but also emotional and relational risks)
  • How kind I am to others (being wounded does not give me the right to wound)
  • How I interpret situations (do I assume the best or the worst?)
  • How kind I am to myself (extending the same grace to ME that I extend to others)
  • How often and to whom I say, “I love you”
  • How often and to whom I say, “Thank you”
  • How I express my feelings (I can learn healthy ways to speak my truth)
  • Whether or not I ask for help (no one gets “points” for playing the martyr)
  • How many times I smile in a day (smiling, by itself, lifts mood-even a “fake” smile)
  • The amount of effort I choose to put forth
  • How I spend my money
  • How much time I spend worrying (or praying or complaining)
  • How often I spend moments blaming myself or others for past actions
  • Whether or not I judge other people
  • Whether or not I try again when I suffer a setback or disappointment (success is getting up one more time than I fall down)
  • How much I appreciate the people and things in my life

Exercising control over the parts of my life where I CAN exercise control helps me deal more effectively with the many parts over which I have no control

It does not undo the sorrow and pain of child loss, but it does work to balance the emotional scales. 

It makes it easier to face a new day.  

It helps me hold onto hope.  

And that is a good thing.  ❤

whenyoucan27tcontrolthewindadjustyoursails

 

 

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. 

just-breathe

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

Exposed

When you pass that accident on the side of the road or read about the mass shooting in the press, what do you think?

What do you say?

Do you breathe a sigh of relief that no one you loved or knew was part of such a tragic disaster?  Do you feel chosen, special, “above it all” because you follow Jesus?  Do you think that your faithful, Bible-focused life and worldview will protect you from random accidents or the sinful actions of others?

Do you say, “Thank You God, it wasn’t me (or mine)?”  Do you pray for the ones caught up in the death and destruction?  Pray that they knew Jesus?  Pray that their families will be able to bear the weight of grief and sorrow that is just this moment bearing down on them?

Or do you snap a photo with your phone and post on social media something like: “Awful wreck on the interstate.  So glad I was a little late this morning or it might have been me! God is good!”

Or worse:  “Awful wreck on the interstate.  Traffic backed up for miles.  UGH!

I walk in two worldsone where I am so very thankful for each life and family spared what I now know by experience, and one where I am brought to tears every time they aren’t.

I wish believers in Christ would choose words that are consistent with compassion-whether the person is spared or not.

Jesus is a man of tears.

He was moved by love and compassion in every human encounter (even with the Pharisees-He wished their eyes were opened).

I want my heart and my words to reflect that I know this Saviour full of love and mercy.

Spared or not, it’s no doing of mine.

To say otherwise reflects only arrogance and ignorance.

Just a moment, now, you who say, “We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit”! How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air. Your remarks should be prefaced with, “If it is the Lord’s will, we shall be alive and will do so-and-so.” As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.

James 4:14-17 PHILLIPS

Bad Mama?

I have a heart for ALL mamas-the ones who are just starting out all the way up to the ones who launched their fledglings and have an empty nest.

I especially have a heart for mamas who have had to say “good-bye” to one or more of their precious children-sending them on ahead to heaven.

I’ve never met one that didn’t wonder if she did enough, said enough, loved enough-WAS enough.

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

On the one hand, it allows instant communication and easy sharing of special events among friends and family in ways we could only dream about when my kids were tiny. On the other hand, the perfect pictures and carefully curated lives posted for the world to see place great pressure on those of us who look around at our messy houses and messy lives.

Add to that the articles and memes passed around and you have a perfect combination to crush a mama’s spirit.

Are my children being kept safe?  Are they being kept too safe?  Are they in the right school, the right sport, the right music program? Should I feed them this or that?  Am I doing enough?

Am I enough?

Am I a bad mama?

Can I just tell you something struggling mama?  Can I give you a lifeboat in the ocean of doubt?

God chose you before the foundation of the world to be your child’s mama.  He knows everything about you-past. present and future-and He chose YOU to help shape this little life into the person He created your child to be.

Yes, you make mistakes.  

Yes, you are flawed.  

Yes, you will do some things well and some things not so well.

But that is no surprise to God.

Look closely at the families in the Old Testament-you don’t have to get past Genesis to find dysfunction all over the place.  But God isn’t limited by our limitations.  His plan isn’t thwarted by our inability to follow directions.  His purposes do not depend on perfect parenting.  

Hallelujah! AMEN!

So buckle up and hold on-do the best you can to guide your family down the road God lays before you.  You will make some bad decisions and need to do a few U-turns.

That’s OK.  Lean into the One Who made you and made your children.

God has it under control.  

no way to be a perfect mother child in arms