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

Repost: Can’t Fake it Forever

There’s a common bit of advice in grief circles:  Fake it until you make it.

It’s not bad as far as it goes and can be pretty useful-especially just after the initial loss and activity surrounding it.

Like when I met the acquaintance in the grocery store a month after burying Dominic and she grabbed me with a giant smile on her face, “How AREyou?!!! It’s SO good to see you out!!!”

I just smiled and stood there as if I appreciated her interest, a deer caught in headlights, silently praying she’d live up to her talkative past and soon move on to another target.

Faked it.

Boom!

BUT there comes a time when faking it is not helpful.  In fact, it’s downright dangerous.

Read the rest here:  Can’t Fake It Forever

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

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

 

Grief is a Family Affair

One of the things I absolutely LOVED about having four kids was the way they pinged off one another.  There were evenings when the comments were flying so fast I could barely keep up.  Sly looks, secret texts, funny faces and friendly punches made up most of our times together.

That’s how families are-each person is just a little “more” when surrounded by folks that love and understand him or her.  

When Dominic left us, we didn’t only lose HIS companionship, we also lost the part of each of us that was reflected back from him.

dom looking up with camera

And just as each one of us had a unique relationship with him in life,we have a unique relationship with him in death.

Sure he was brother to all his siblings.

But he was a younger brother to the older two and older brother to our youngest.  He was a middle son but a third child.  He was close to his sister who shared his love of musical instruments, bonded with his younger brother over cars and butted heads with his older brother when he felt like he was bossed around.

boys

Dominic and I were both political junkies and loved to debate policy and current events.  We listened to NPR and compared notes.

He enjoyed talking sports with his dad and trying out different guitars and sound effects pedals as they jammed to the radio.

So how we remember him, what we miss, what we long for and what we hold onto is a reflection of the different way we interacted with him.

How much and how loud we express our grief is also a combination of our relationship with him and our innate personalities. 

Sometimes that is helpful-like when one of us can sit and listen to another because we are not so emotional at the moment.  Sometimes it causes frustration or even conflict when one or more of us feels that we need to DO a certain thing to remember Dominic and one or more of us is uncomfortable doing that very thing.

We’ve got to respect our differences, embrace them, make room for them even in this Valley.  

We ALL miss him.  That’s something we can agree on. 

We ALL would give anything to have him back.

And we are ALL in this together, even in our unique expressions of the same pain.

Grief is a family affair as much as life is. 

We learn, we grow, we adapt.  

And together we survive.  

beach-and-family-better

One Little Word 2018

I used to spend every New Year’s morning with my Bible, my thoughts and my Lord.

I wrote each family member’s name in my journal and waited for the Holy Spirit to give me a verse to pray for them for the next year.

I would end with my own name and ask God what good works He had planned for me.

When I look back over these journals I realize that what I had essentially been doing for decades was asking God for “One Little Word” to focus my energy, resources and attention each year.

I honestly believe that every human on the face of the Earth is here for a reason. They are not a random collection of cells and neurons. They are created in the image of an Almighty God to impact the people around them in specific ways.

So I challenge you to ask the God of the universe to give you One Little Word for 2018. And then hold every potential commitment up to that light to determine if it is really part of God’s plan for you this year.

For some of my hurting parent friends the word may be “healing” or “rest” and that’s just fine. For others it may be “endurance” or “perseverance” and that’s fine too.

It’s between you and God.

May you hear clearly and receive with open hands.

Did She REALLY Mean It That Way?

Most of us are used to them by now-those photo filters that can turn an awful picture into a dreamy masterpiece.

The same filters can take a perfectly lovely photo and distort it into something comical or worse.

Our minds are like that.

When we see things, hear things, experience things-we are filtering them through our own experience, emotional state, physical condition and biases.

As a bereaved parent, I’ve got to be very, very careful I don’t misinterpret other people’s words, actions and intentions.

It’s easy sometimes for me to feel like someone is purposefully seeking to harm me when all they are doing is acting in ignorance.

I can be quick to assume that a person’s absence is avoidance instead of simply a function of an overbusy schedule.

I can take words and twist them to mean something very different than what was intended because my heart hears everything through the filter of loss.

If I don’t constantly remind myself, I forget that if someone else hasn’t experienced child loss they really, truly HAVE NO CLUE what it feels like to walk in my shoes.

Because if I don’t, I spend most of my time hurt, licking my wounds in the corner and avoiding the very people that can help my heart heal.

Do other people have a responsibility to try to understand?

Of course they do!

But I also have a responsibility to try to see their hearts and not only their actions.

I need to check my own filters to make sure I’m not placing blame where there is none.

I should give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

never assume