Shifting The Weight, Bearing the Burden

I told the two children with me that morning that we were going to survive this awful blow.

And we have.

It has been hard and ugly and more painful than anything else we’ve ever had to do. 

But we’re still standing.

And I want to encourage the hearts that are just starting down this broken road:  You really CAN make it.

Some of you reading this are saying, “But I don’t want to make it.  I want to lie down and give up and be out of this pain.”  

I don’t blame you. 

That’s precisely how my heart felt for months and months.  The only thing that kept me holding onto hope was a strong desire that my precious family not have to bury another person they loved.  It was enough to force my lungs to draw one more breath, and then another, and then another.

ok to just breathe

The breaths turned into minutes turned into hours turned into days-then weeks, months and finally, years.

Here I am, four plus years into this Valley and I can tell you this:

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

Yes, every single minute grief runs like background noise in my brain.  I can go from OK to devastated in a heartbeat.

Yes, I miss Dominic like crazy.

I miss the family we used to have.

I miss the me I used to be.

But I am also living, loving and even laughing my way through many days.

I can go from tearful to joyful in a heartbeat too.  I am even more grateful for the children that walk the earth with me.  I try harder to be present, to listen, to lean in and love more fully.

The broken me is a more compassionate woman who knows the value of a minute spent with someone you love.  

I’ve learned to shift the weight of grief to one hip and make room for other things.  

It’s hard.  

It’s going to stay hard. 

But with God’s help, I’m strong enough to make it.  

track record for bad days is 100

Helping Hearts Hold Onto Hope

I’ve always been a bit of a cheerleader.

cheerleadere

Not THAT kind of cheerleader!

But the kind that stands alongside the road handing cups of water to the struggling stragglers in the far back of a marathon.

handing water

Because I believe in doing your best and finishing the race, even if it’s hard and even if it’s not pretty.

hobbling-runner

I also think that often the difference between giving up and giving in or going on and getting done is courage.

Not the “in your face I’m gonna fight you” courage of action movies but the quiet, everyday courage of simply carrying on when you’re tired, worn down and empty of hope.

And the thing about courage is this:  I can lend you some of mine.

That’s really what cheer leading is all about-calling courage to another heart, lending courage from the sidelines.

So many wounded hearts are walking around, barely holding onto hope, and all it takes is a few minutes, a few words, an outstretched hand, a smile, an open door or a pat on the back to strengthen their grip.

So when you see that downcast face, that defeated stooping shoulder, that exasperated mama toting three kids into the grocery store-don’t turn away.

Reach out. 

Hand a cup of kind words in the name of Jesus.

Help a heart hold onto hope.

word of encouragement is the fuel for hope

Keeping It Real: It’s STILL Hard

When I started writing, Dominic had been gone nearly 18 months.  

Before I went public with my thoughts, I had filled six journals with page after page of ramblings, Scripture, quotes from books, questions and tears.  

Those are some of my most precious possessions because when I look back I can see how even in the very first hours (yes, I started writing that morning) God was already bringing truth and healing to my shattered soul and broken heart.  

In a couple months it will be three years since I started sharing here.  And while I rarely look back on the posts in any orderly way, I can see that God has continued His faithfulness when I do.

But just like I promised when I wrote the introduction to my site, I will always be as honest as possible when I share.  

So let me just tell you:  It’s STILL hard.  

Not in the same first, breath-robbing, soul-crushing, can’t-lift-my-head sort of way that makes a heart certain it can. not. survive.

But in a slow-leak, not-enough-air-in-my-tires sort of way that makes every road less comfortable to travel and necessitates lots of stops to make sure I can keep going.

I’ve just endured two weeks of one bad thing after another.  

All of them have a solution which (on my scale) makes them hardly worth noting.  

But each disrupted my life and will require significant time, energy and resources to address.  

And for a heart that has learned how to make it by going slow, choosing predictable paths and incorporating lots of stops along the way, those kinds of disruptions create stress and strain on an already taxed system. 

I will absolutely survive.  

I’ve already survived the cruelest and most difficult days of my life.  

But it’s no cake walk.  

It’s still hard.

track record for bad days is 100

 

Bereaved Parents Month: Courage is a Heart Word

You know what breaks my heart all over again?  

The fact that so many bereaved parents tell me they don’t feel they can share their experience on their own FaceBook or other social media pages.  

That’s just WRONG!

They have been shushed to silent suffering because when they break open the vault of emotions and let others see what’s inside, most people turn away-or worse, they condemn that wounded heart for sharing.  

SHAME on you if you are one of those people.  

I’ve written about this before here:

In recent years we have dragged many topics into the light.  We’ve made space in the public square for discussion of things we used to pretend didn’t exist.

But life after child loss is still a hushed topic.

The long road to healing after burying a child is rarely acknowledged outside the community of bereaved parents.

We have splashed all kinds of garbage across the Internet because in one way or another it makes us feel good (yep, admit it-it feeds some place in your soul) but we will not tolerate someone being utterly honest about how impossibly hard some things are to bear in this life.

Because THAT makes us uncomfortable.

Not every hurting heart is brave enough to risk negative public opinion.  I understand that completely.  This post is not for THEM, it’s for the hundreds and thousands who want to shut them down and shut them out.

This may be for you, if you have ever scrolled past a plaintive post or made some glib comment like, “God has a purpose in this for you” or worse, written a private message scolding someone and telling them they are begging for attention, refusing to “move on” or hanging on to hurt.

Think for one minute-literally 60 full seconds-how it would feel to hold the cold hand of your dead child, bury your child, go home to his empty room and then live the rest. of. your. life. without the earthly companionship of the child of your heart.  

Then think again about censoring your friend who’s grieving.  

Instead, speak courage to his or her heart.  

Strengthen their hold on hope don’t destroy it. 

Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad.

~Brene Brown

Unbroken

I call my parents pretty much every morning.  

It was a habit started years ago after my mother had a bad spell and ended up in the hospital.  I like to start my day knowing how she and my dad are doing.

The other day Papa and I were talking about the movie, “Unbroken” we saw a couple years ago.

There’s a scene where the main character was forced to hold a heavy beam over his head in a Japanese POW camp for hours.  If he let it fall, he would be shot and his torture over. Malnourished, mistreated and disheartened, he somehow found the strength to do it.

He endured.

unbroken movie beam

His courageous example lent courage to the others in that camp.  His victory was in not giving up or giving in, though he bore the scars for the rest of his life.

These past months have been difficult ones for both of my parents.  Mama’s fall, heart attack and multiple hospital stays have left her very different than she was last summer.  Someone needs to be with her all the time.

That means my dad-who has no physical limitations-is as housebound as she.  

Papa is absolutely committed to caring for Mama and he’s doing a great job.  

But it’s hard on a heart to be confined when you are surrounded by so many chores that need doing and so much wide open space that begs you to get out in the sunshine.

He is enduring.  

And I am thankful for his example.  

So few of us will have an opportunity to do really grand things that make headlines.  But most of us will have a chance to be faithful in hundreds of small things that make up meaningful lives. 

courage doesn't always roar male liion

Quiet, everyday commitment to not giving up when life is hard and rest seems so very far away is victory even when it doesn’t feel like it.  

It speaks courage to other hearts to hold on.

Truly.

Always.

 

be strong you never know who you are inspiring

 

 

Courage Requires Vulnerability

 

It’s a funny thing. 

If you’ve never faced anything very frightening, it’s easy to think that those who do and march on through are somehow immune to fear.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.  

courage is resistance to fear

Yet you cannot master something you deny.  You cannot resist that which you claim doesn’t exist.

Child loss is frightening. 

So frightening that those not forced to walk this road usually choose to pretend (in practice if not in words) that it simply isn’t part of the world they live in.

It’s so frightening that most bereaved parents experience a period of time we would describe as “being numb” and “shock”.

It was probably six months until my heart truly understood the fact that Dominic was not coming back.

Ever. 

It was frightening on so many levels-I had to face the fact I was not in control, had to face the fact my life was never going to be what I had envisioned it to be, face the fact that my surviving children would be shaped by grief in ways neither I nor they could anticipate, face the fact that I would live out my years carrying this heavy burden, and face the fact that no matter how hard I wished things were different, they were never going to be different-my child was dead.

sometimes even to live is an act of courage

And when the numbness began to wear off and fear creep into my heart, I had to choose: Was I going to embrace and experience this awful, devastating fear or was I going to try to deny it, distract myself from it or try to dismiss it as inconsequential?

Facing fear requires facing my own weakness.

Facing fear means becoming vulnerable-admitting that I am hurting, admitting that I cannot do this on my own, admitting that maybe, just maybe, I can’t climb this mountain without help.

cant get to courage without walking through vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability was its own challenge.

What if others mocked me?  What if no one helped me?  What if I just wasn’t up to the task?

courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen brene brown

I decided that NOT facing fear was not an option.  As long as it lurked in the shadows I would be its prisoner.  

So I turned and looked it square in the eyes.  And I found, with God’s enabling help, I could master that fear. 

Two verses became my touchstone:

When struck by fear,
    I let go, depending securely upon You alone.
   In God—whose word I praise—
    in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in,
    for what can measly men do to me? 

Psalm 56:3-4 VOICE

When I admitted my weakness, His strength was sufficient.

strength made perfect in weakness ant

Choosing vulnerability and facing fear opens the door for God to show His power in and through me. 

Child loss is still scary.  

I’m still afraid.

But the Lord gives me strength to master the fear.  

courage doesn't always roar male liion

 

 

What Can I DO? Start by Showing Up.

This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved. 

A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.

The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.

It made me dig deep in my memories for who did what in those first hours, first days and how it made a difference in our family’s ability to hold onto hope and to stumble forward in the heavy fog of grief, pain and sorrow that enveloped our hearts.

My friend was already committed to showing up and sitting silently and  lovingly with this child’s mother. I didn’t have to remind her of the power of compassionate companionship.

She was going. 

She was staying as long as it was helpful and necessary.

She was coming back as many times as needed.

And that is a gift!

love is courage

I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane.  It was Robbie-our “adopted” son.  As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie.  Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help.  I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.

And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little. 

Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!I was not going to walk this Valley alone.  They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here.  I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.

Others came.  Some did practical things, brought necessary items, helped me begin to think through next steps.  But many just sat with me and my children as we waited for my husband to fly in and my parents to drive up.

I cannot overstate how important SIMPLY BEING THERE was!

Thinking back on that time, I dug up some other very practical “first few days” things friends and family can do:

  • Bring disposable plates, cutlery and plenty of paper goods (toilet paper, kleenex, napkins) along with extra trash bags.
  • Place a notebook and pens near the spot folks might drop off meals or other things and ask that they write their names and what they brought inside.  My daughter did this for me and while I was often unable to acknowledge it at the time (or unaware of the blessing) I had a record that is dear to me still.
  • Set up an online meal planning/scheduling group. Make sure to note allergies or special food needs because while it’s wonderful to have food provided, it’s not helpful if the family can’t eat it because of dietary restrictions.
  • If there are unwashed clothes belonging to the childDO NOTwash them in an attempt to help out.  It may sound awful to anyone who has not buried a child, but nearly every mom I know wanted something with her child’s scent still on it.  I have a few things of Dom’s that are in a sealed plastic bag.  Every so often I open it and inhale what’s left of his fragrance.  Smell is such a powerful memory stimulant.
  • Begin to collect photographs from online sources, friends and family so that there will be many to choose from if the family wants to make a video for services.
  • Bring disposable Lysol wipes or something similar for quick clean ups in bathrooms and the kitchen.  Discreetly tidy up whenever possible or necessary.
  • Do NOT move papers, piles of mail, etc. without the family’s permission.  It may seem like a good idea at the time to make things neat for visitors, but it will be a nightmare later!  My brain is nearly empty of details for most of the first month after Dominic left us.  I depended on routine and familiar spots to remember where important items might be for the first year.  If something had been moved, I could not locate it, no matter how hard I tried.  If somethingHAS to be moved, place it in a box-clearly labeled-and attach a prominent note on the refrigerator or someplace like that indicating where it is.
  • Just sit and listen.  Or just sit in silence.  Whatever is most helpful to the bereaved parents and their family. Loving presence kept me anchored to this world when all I wanted to do was float away somewhere the pain couldn’t find me.

Compassionate companionship makes the difference between a heart holding onto hope or letting go and falling into the abyss.

Trust me.

I know.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh