This is still the question that comes up most often in bereaved parent groups: ‘How do I DO this?’
No one is prepared for the devastation of child loss. There are no manuals issued as you walk away from your son or daughter’s earthly shell.
And what makes it worse is that because child loss is every parent’s worst nightmare, no one wants to talk about what happens after everyone else goes back to their lives and families are left alone with grief, isolation, devastation and desperate pain.
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:
I promise I didn’t sneak a peek at today’s devotion before I wrote yesterday’s thoughts.
But maybe it’s because I have a very, very close relationship with the potential for comparison and discontent that I linked the two even before reading Chole’s reflection.
See, it’s really, really easy to look at others whose lives are bigger, better and more beautiful and become bitter that mine isn’t.
And even when I am successful at taking material or spiritual blessings off the table of comparison, I’m left with rating suffering others are spared against the suffering I’ve been called to carry.
But like Judas-who was one of the Twelve, trusted disciple and invited guest to the Last Supper-if I allow discontent to gain a foothold I’m an easy target for the enemy.
“He doesn’t love you.” “He doesn’t care what happens to you.” He doesn’t even SEE you.” can lead my heart down a dark trail of despair where I’m not only acting against my own best interest but defaming the Name of my Shepherd King.
I work very hard at not letting the devil rent space in my head.
Sometimes it takes a practical turn and means walking away from social media or media in general. Sometimes it means wrestling “what ifs” and “whys” to the ground.
It ALWAYS means active effort on my part.
One of the fiercest allies of not-enough-ness is our imaginations. Today, fast daydreaming of “more”. Refuse to allow discontentment brain space. Each time you are tempted to picture your life with something else or something new or something different, stop. (Yes, I just said STOP.) And redirect your mental energy to thank God for anything in your current reality for which you can be grateful.
Alicia Britt Chole
**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience**
I’d like to encourage my fellow travelers in this Valley today.
Often I write about and share the hardest parts of this journey. Because there are so, so many hard parts!
And they are rarely spoken about above a whisper (if at all!) in greater society. I am determined to be as honest as possible lest I know of a hidden danger along the way and fail to warn you.
But there are also precious joys tucked away along the difficult path.
The trick is to train your eye to see them and your heart to receive them.
I’ll be the first to admit that for months (probably two years) despair and sorrow and loss were all I could truly feel.
Bereft is the word I’d choose if forced to choose only one.
I became so adept at finding the sad in every situation I fell out of practice in finding anything else.
To be honest, it didn’t take much to find the sad. Holidays were duller, celebrations were always missing one, even a sunrise didn’t shine as brightly knowing Dominic was never going to set eyes on that day’s bright glow.
At some point, unbidden, a tiny spark of gratitude-like a wildflower among weeds-drew my heart to joy. Even if I tried, I couldn’t help responding to the fact that not every moment of every day was clad in mourning clothes.
Little by little color seeped back into my life.
I found that if I grabbed those bits, held them close and meditated upon them, they soon came closer and closer together. They grew to fill not just moments but sometimes hours.
Do not be distant, O Lord, lest I become so mired in yesterday’s hurts, that I miss entirely the living gifts this day might hold.
“Liturgy for Embracing Both Joy & Sorrow” from Every Moment Holy Vol. II: Death, Grief & Hope
I can’t weigh all my blessings on a giant cosmic scale against the bruising of child loss and make it balance. But I have also realized that I don’t have to live in a constant state of bitter sadness just to prove I love my son.
It brings good things, hard things, beautiful blessings and awful bruising. I have-in the years since Dom left us-had challenges and triumphs.
I’m learning that if I pluck the flowers of joy when I see them, I’m better able to survive the moments of despair when they overtake me.
I’ve written before how grief impacts physical health.
It’s true that our hearts and our bodies are intricately connected and stress in one area inevitably produces effects in the other.
I thought I had made it past the “critical period” when child loss might show up in my body but I was wrong.
Christmas Eve Day landed me in the hospital with a massive GI bleed. It wasn’t the first time I’d had such an incident. They began in 2007 and this made the sixth trip to the emergency room for the same problem-third since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
But this is the first time it’s taken nine long months to rebuild the red blood cells I lost.
I’m sure age and my autoimmune disease have something to do with it. Still, I’ve been pretty puny trying to do chores around this place with insufficient oxygen flowing to my muscles and my lungs. It’s been a challenge walking up the long hill from the horse pen to the front door. It’s been hard marching up and down the stairs in the house carrying laundry and sundry other things.
Tuesday, though, I got some really good news!
I get bi-monthly infusions for my RA and it’s standard practice to run labs before to make sure my body can tolerate the onslaught of potent medicine flowing through my veins.
For the first time in nine months the results showed I had a normal blood count.
I suspected that it had finally crept up into normal range because when I had my grandson here a couple weeks ago I was able to keep up with him. But it was lovely to get empirical confirmation.
And just like bad news drags me lower since Dom left us, good news boosts me higher.
There was a time when I thought I didn’t want to keep going-the pain was too great, the burden too heavy.
Thankfully, I’m not still in that pit of despair.
I miss Dominic. I miss the family we were. I mourn the uncle and (probably) husband he would have been.
But I have people here who I love. I have a life that still has meaning and purpose.
Yes, I live on the other side of the Resurrection-I know the end of the disciples’ vigil-I am convinced of the empty tomb, the ascended Lord and my Great High Priest’s intercession at the right hand of the Father.
But what I long for I cannot hold. What I hope for I cannot touch. What I know to be true I cannot see.
I live in the space between “it looks like everything has gone horribly wrong” and “Hallelujah!”.
It is painful. It is hard.
And it will last for a lifetime, not just a few days.