Bereaved Parents Month 2020: Ten Ways To Survive Hard Grief Days

Even six years into this journey I have hard grief days.

I had one just this week and needed to remind my heart that while I can’t stop the waves from rolling in, I have ways to hang on and ride them out.

There are many, many ways to survive such days but here are ten that have proven helpful to me over and over again.

My hardest grief season begins in November and runs to the end of May.  Thanksgiving through Dominic’s birthday on (or near) Memorial Day are days full of triggers, memories and stark reminders that one of us is missing.

If I could fall asleep November first and wake up in June I’d do it.

But I can’t so I have to employ all the tricks I’ve learned in the nearly six years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven to survive those particularly challenging months.

Here are ten ways I survive hard grief days.

Read the rest here: Taking Care: Ten Ways to Survive Hard Grief Days

Child Loss: How Do I DO This?


After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet. 

Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.  

Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.

And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream: 

How do I DO this? 

Read the rest here: How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs to Ask

Picking My Path Through Sun And Shade


I walk the half-mile stretch down and back on my driveway at least four or five times a day.

In the winter I follow the sun.

In the summer I follow the shade.

The path I choose to take either adds to or subtracts from my ability to make the trek in relative comfort.

Read the rest here: Sun & Shade: Picking My Path

If It Happened Once, It Could Happen Again

I was reminded today how close fear sits to the door of my heart and to the door of the hearts of many bereaved parents.

Once again a mom shared an experience of not being able to get in touch with a surviving child and how that quickly spiraled downward to a frenzy of fear.

To some it may seem like an overreaction. But to those of us for whom the one thing you think won’t happen, HAS happened, it made perfect sense.

Before Dominic was killed on his motorcycle I had the normal parental misgivings about my kids driving here, there and everywhere. I always prayed for them and tossed a, “Be safe!” as they walked out the door with keys in hand.

I shook my head sadly, teared up and felt awful when I saw an accident report on the news.

But I lived in the protective bubble of never having actually experienced sudden, tragic loss and I was blissfully unaware of how quickly and how completely life could change.

Now I know.

And fear creeps up my back and takes hold of my heart in an instant if anything unusual prevents a loved one from answering his or her phone when I think they should.

In the first couple of years I could not stop it. I was at the mercy of my feelings and my mind was quickly overwhelmed with all the “what ifs” and would imagine every possible awful outcome.

Knowing Fear. | Still Standing Magazine

So our family put some simple protocols in place to help everyone’s heart.

We text or call when we arrive safely somewhere; we offer alternative phone numbers if traveling with others so there’s a second means of contact; we know that if one of us calls another repeatedly it’s important and regardless of where we are or what we are doing, we need to pick up; and if we are on a longer trip with multiple stops we provide an itinerary.

Now I’ve learned a bit better how to push irrational thoughts away, to focus on the probable and to allow a little time and space for someone to get back in touch with me.

It’s hard and requires great effort.

But I was reminded just the other day that no matter how hard you try or how much you work to push those feelings away, they can threaten to overtake you regardless.

My dad and I talk every morning. He texts me when he’s up and I call him when I’m done with morning chores. On his end, two texts, one hour apart, had gone through to my phone with no response. He finally called me because he was afraid something was wrong.

The same day, I began a conversation with my daughter by saying, “Your brother called…” at which point she immediately asked what happened. I realized my mistake for starting with those words and quickly assured her everything was just fine.

You never forget making or receiving that phone call delivering the unchangeable and unbelievable awful news.

I am still prone to jump to conclusions.

If it happened once, it can happen again.

But I’m trying hard to learn to live in a less friendly, less safe world than I once depended upon. So I aim my heart and mind in the direction of the most likely instead of the most awful.

On the best days, it works.

Anything Human Is Mentionable

We wall off our world with words.

The ones we speak and the ones we swallow down so they don’t escape our lips.

But, as Mr. Rogers says, “Anything human is mentionable.”

Won't You Be My Neighbor?' the Mister Rogers Documentary, Comes to ...

Even death.

We don’t like to talk about death. It’s unpleasant and frightening and often divisive. We all know it’s coming-no one (except Enoch and Elijah) have left this world any other way. Yet the polite thing to do is pretend it doesn’t exist or at the very least, isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

But that serves no good purpose.

It stops us from having meaningful conversations with those we love as they approach the end of their days. It keeps us from making amends while there is still time, saying the things that need to be said, wrapping up loose ends and frayed relationships.

It stops us from listening to the bereaved. If we get too close and pay too much attention to the aftermath of loss then we have to think about what it really means to live on without someone we love.

And it has shaped a society in which those who grieve too loudly or too long are shushed and shamed.

Refusing to talk about death doesn’t make it disappear.

It only makes it harder to deal with.

The rest of the Mr. Rogers quote is this:

…and anything mentionable is more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.

Fred Rogers

Learning the language of loss and lament is part of the healing process in grief.

We’ve never been very good in Western society talking about or dealing with death. And the recent restrictions around traditional rituals associated with saying farewell to loved ones have made it that much more difficult. So many hearts are hurting and have nowhere to go, no one to talk to, no safe refuge for their pain.

If someone trusts you with his or her feelings, receive it as a gift.

Make space for them to be honest about what they are experiencing.

Remind them that “Anything human is mentionable”.

And listen.

I don't believe in best friends {discuss amongst yourself ...

Walking Out The Worry

Sit. Soak. Sour.

It happens to milk left out of the fridge and it happens to people too.

If all I do is sit in a chair, soak up the news, social media rants and talk show ravings, I’ll end up sad and sour.

Grumpy (Disney) | Heroes Wiki | Fandom

I don’t want to do that.

So I get outside and soak up the sunshine and fresh air instead.

I know everyone doesn’t have the option to walk for over a mile on their own property but even in the strictest of the locked down states, there are parks, sidewalks and other outdoor spaces you could visit.

My walking companions.

Sit on your stoop if you have to.

But just get outside, for goodness sake!

Turn off the screens screaming fearful headlines, walk away from the four walls that feel like they are closing in on you, open a window at least and stick your head out.

Road Trips and Car Travel With Your Dog | Currents Veterinary Centre

If you really, truly can’t manage any outside time or fresh air, grow something.

Remember when you were a kid and mom or grandma cut the tops off carrots and put them in a shallow dish? They will grow fluffy greenery in a few days.

Watching the progress of any living thing is balm to a weary soul.

Carrot Top Experiment - Red Kite Days

Even grocery stores sell potted plants or herbs in most places. Buy a few. They’ll improve indoor air quality as well as providing a diversion from worry.

When all a heart thinks about is death, destruction and dire news, it shrinks into a hardened ball.

It becomes increasingly difficult to feel anything but fear or anger or bitterness.

Sour. Dour. Persnickety. Cranky. Grumpy.

I'm cranky in the morning. (With images) | Snoopy, Snoopy quotes

That’s not how I want to be and it’s probably not how you want to be either.

So get up. Break the habit of soaking in bad news.

Get some fresh air and sunshine if you can or at least create your own little corner of green.

Refresh your soul and feed it hope.

Anxiety: A Very Real Part of Child Loss

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. 

Read the rest here: Anxiety After Child Loss Is Real

How To Derail 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.

Read the rest here: Grief Coping Strategy: Derailing A Negative Train of Thought

What Can Make Grieving Harder? Things You Might Not Expect.

I’m the kind of person who thinks a lot about what makes people tick.

I always assume the person in front of me is the sum of his or her experiences.

We all are, really.

No one wakes up one day and just “is”. We become, over time, as our innate nature interacts with the world around us. First our parents and siblings influence us and then school, friends, life experience either gently molds us or pounds us into shape.

Often we get so used to our own way of doing and being we never give it much thought. It’s just “how we are”. We work around our faults and try to use our strengths to our advantage.

Most of us are pretty good at it.

Then something earth shattering comes along and suddenly the cracks are exposed and we haven’t the energy to cover them over.

Grieving hearts can be overwhelmed by all the seemingly unrelated issues that crop up after child loss. They lament that the pain and sorrow they bear missing their child is more than enough of a burden. Why, oh why are all these other things demanding attention at the same time?

How we grieve is informed by so many things!

Not only by our relationship with the one we miss but also our relationship with previous losses, ourselves and others.

Here are some often overlooked things that affect our grief:

  • Relationship with the one we miss. I think most of us realize this intuitively but we might be afraid to look deeper than the most recent memories and feelings. Dominic was almost 24 when he was killed in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident. At first my reaction to his death was mostly about losing him as a young adult. Over time I mourned losing him as a younger middle child who came along when I wasn’t taking as many photos of babies and toddlers (I have far fewer of him than his older siblings!). I mourned not making as much of his high school graduation and being not long out of major surgery for his college graduation. I mourned not making videos of his amazing drum playing because, you know, there’s always next time. My relationship with Dominic was complicated as all relationships are. I’m still discovering sore spots, having to think about, feel them and forgive myself or him for that specific pain. It takes time and willingness to explore my heart even when it hurts.
  • Relationship to previous losses. We’ve all suffered loss in our lifetimes. It might not have been due to death, but something or someone was taken from us, left us or is missing. And we’ve observed how others in our family have dealt (or not dealt) with loss. How we processed previous loss-what we learned or didn’t learn-in the course of living through it impacts how we approach child loss. I suffered numerous smaller losses before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. One of the most profound was the decade prior to his leaving when my health declined in ways I could neither control nor anticipate. Over and over I was forced to accept that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t MAKE something happen (or not happen). I had already surrendered, for the most part, to the worldview that I was not in control. It didn’t stop my heart from crying out nor stop my mind from trying to find a reason for this awful tragedy, but it helped me get past the initial disbelief that it could happen at all.
  • Relationship to ourselves. Some of us are masters of ignoring inner voices and prodding. Some folks never have a conversation with themselves, question their own motives or examine their own behavior. They walk through life and experience it moment by moment, day by day without looking too far ahead or looking over their shoulder at what they might leave in their wake. I’d love to have a day like that. Because I’m precisely the opposite. I will replay a conversation a dozen times trying to figure out where it went wrong or what I could have said differently. I am never free of a long list of self-imposed “Do’s and Don’t’s”. Even while grieving, I had expectations regarding what was allowed and what was out of bounds. It took time for me to give my heart permission to do whatever was necessary as long as it didn’t harm me or others. The less introspective may need help setting boundaries around their words and behavior so they don’t damage other hearts and relationships in unbridled grief.
  • Relationship to others. One of the most shocking realizations in child loss is that although others are in your immediate grief circle (spouse, other children, grandparents) no one has precisely the same relationship with the missing child. And every relationship within a family is impacted by the space left behind. Families are reshaped as much by the subtraction of a member as by the addition of a new baby or spouse. It changes everything. So even in this intimate setting, misunderstandings happen. Each person is working through their own grief. As they do, they will change. And the cycle begins anew. The husband I knew and the children I knew BEFORE Dom left have been reshaped as much by this experience as I have. I tend to want to relate to the people they were before and not to the people they are NOW. The gap between the two can be difficult to navigate. We continue to learn to live together in our new reality-changing and (hopefully) growing together. We talk more about important things, hide less behind false fronts and work harder at keeping short accounts.

Child loss shook me to the core.

It rattled every loose thought and feeling so hard they fell out and I was forced to deal with them. It ripped away any facade I’d managed to construct around poor coping techniques and suddenly I had to find new ones. Excuses that served to kick relationship problems down the road weren’t enough anymore.

There was a lot of work to do.

Still is.

It’s STILL Complicated

I first shared this post four years ago after a group of bereaved parents and I were talking about how things that used to be simple and straightforward simply weren’t anymore.

Things like the question, “How many kids do you have?”

Things like going to a movie or picking a place to eat out.

So. Many. Things.

Honestly, I thought it’d be less of a minefield by now-I mean it’s been six years already! And while there ARE some things that I find easier, most of the things I talk about in this post are still hard.

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.

Read the rest here: It’s Complicated