Retreat

As a kid our family made a yearly pilgrimage to the Gulf Coast-back when the beaches were wide open vistas, the water see-through green and the days long and unhurried.

We didn’t spend money on the “attractions” or tourist trap souvenir shops-we got up early to watch the sun rise and spent the remainder of the day back and forth between the beach and the water.

I loved to find a spot that was about waist deep and feel the waves move across my body-up and down, up and down-floating in rhythm to the world’s heartbeat.

But every so often a wave would surprise me, crash over my head unannounced and break the cycle of gentle rocking with a sputter-inducing plunge beneath the salty sea.

As long as the giant waves were few and far between, I could recover, regather my sense of well-being and continue to enjoy the water.

But when the first wave marked a change in the tide or an incoming storm and was followed by more and more of the same, I knew it was time to move toward shore.

I could withstand one or two of these but if there was no chance to catch my breath in between I was going under.

This past week has been a deluge of waves.

Waves of grief,

waves of regret,

waves of disappointment,

waves of discouagement.

No storm clouds on the horizon.  No major life events or grief anniversaries-just a turning of the tide.

And so I find myself retreating a bit.

Backtracking from progress I thought I had made. Retracing steps and repeating cycles I though I had left behind.

I suspect that most of us have weeks like this.

You don’t have to bury a child to beg Jesus to make things whole again-to bring hope to your heart again-to ask Him to calm the storm and save you from destruction.

Ebb and flow.  Waves and calm.  Storms and sunshine.  Life is made up of all of these.

I am confident that Jesus is the Peace-speaker.  He can calm the wind and the waves.

I want to have faith.  I want to learn to call out in trust and not doubt.

I’m working on that and waiting for His Spirit to work on it in me.

But as I wait, I’m going to have to sit on shore for awhile.

 

 

 

How Do You Breathe?

It was the question I asked the bereaved mother that came to my son’s funeral.

It was the question a mother asked me as we stood by her granddaughter’s casket, surrounded by family and flowers.

And it is the right question.

Because when the breath leaves the body of your child, and you look down at the shell that used to be the home of a vibrant, living soul, you simply can. not. breathe.

What should be an autonomic, automatic, don’t-even-think-about-it bodily function escapes you.

When your lungs finally scream for oxygen, your body takes over, against your will.

And even more than two years later, it’s where I still live-between the conscious world of aching loss that drains me of the will to go on and the unconcious biology of a body still functioning without my permission.

I live in a no-man’s-land with one foot in the HERE AND NOW and one foot in FOREVER.

But there are no bright flags to mark its borders, no crossing guards to give warning to the people I mingle with every day that they are over there- outside my world of hurt-and I am stuck in here.

And so they wave from across the way, cheerful and unburdened by the weight of sorrow I drag around.  They give me odd looks now and then, vaguely unsettled by my inability to plunge unrestrained into their fun.

Memory escapes them-what happened? how long has it been? shouldn’t she be over that by now?

They can’t understand, and I’m thankful for that.

“How do you breathe?”

Only the ones who share the secret knowledge know the answer to that question.

You learn to will your heart to keep beating and your lungs to keep filling because there are others who depend on you and who need you to stay.

You can’t hold your breath forever, even if you want to.  

You lean harder on the hope you have in Christ.

You recite verses and hymns and fill your mind with the promises of Jesus.

And you beg the Spirit of God to fill you to fullness with His breath, His life and His hope.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 NLT

 

 

 

Broken Hearts, Beating Still

The events of this past week have thrown my body into a tailspin-like muscle memory acquired through repetitive action-I feel the terror of parents hearing the awful news that their child is gone.

It’s as if I am the one hearing the knock on the door.

As if I am the one absorbing the terrible blow.  

And I know what they don’t yet understand-there is no wonder drug or magic pill that can erase the pain.

There is no miraculous cure for a broken heart.  

I wrote this months ago, but this week has made it fresh again: 

When Dominic was born by c-section, they placed the epidural too high and I was unable to feel my chest rise and fall even though I continued to breathe.

It was a frightening experience. I WANTED to keep breathing-because I wanted to touch this new life coming into the world and into our family.

But when the deputy brought the news that Dominic had been killed, it felt like I stopped breathing and my heart stopped beating-and I would have welcomed both.

I wanted to escape the pain that filled my heart, my soul, my bones.

I think most bereaved mothers will tell you they have absolutely NO IDEA how their bodies continue to live and carry this heavy burden.

I do it for those still here and, having felt the pain of being left behind, my mama heart wants to spare the ones I love as long as I can.

But rest assured, it is a daily struggle to decide to go on.

heart_640

“Broken Hearts Still Beat”

BIRTH

I’m not breathing.
They assure me that I am.
My heartbeat thumps the truth for all to hear.
A welcome wail ushers his life into the spotlight of this wide world.

DEATH
I’m not breathing.
They assure me that I am.
My lungs draw air against my will and my better judgment.
An anguished cry marks the end of his earthly life.
I am breathing.
My body refusing to keep pace with my broken heart.

melanie desimone, november 7, 2014

There’s a Hole in My Bucket

I bet most of you reading this have listened to more than one round of the kiddie tune, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza”.

It is a funny song full of silly remedies for patching a bucket that won’t hold water even though it’s been dipped in the well and filled to the brim.

I was talking to my husband the other day about how hard it is to describe the ongoing difficulty of living with child loss.

And this song popped into my head.

Good things still happen in our lives (our bucket is being filled) but losing Dominic has put a hole in the bottom of it (the bucket never gets full anymore).

It’s not that we don’t appreciate and enjoy happy moments.  We do.

We love seeing our children, we like to celebrate their accomplishments and sing, “Happy Birthday!”.

We are so very proud of who they are and what they have overcome.

We savor the time we get to spend together, we enjoy eating and laughing and sharing experiences.

But we can’t plug the leak of loss that saps our strength and reduces the fullness of our joy.

Hope postponed grieves the heart; but when a dream comes true, life is full and sweet.

Proverbs 13:12 VOICE

Lest anyone think I’ve forgotten that Jesus promises joy to those who follow Him, I haven’t.

But I also know many promises will not be completely realized until He returns as King on Earth.

lion-and-lamb-best-friends-fahad-photographer

 

The lion will lie down with the lamb, but not today.

Swords will be beaten into ploughshares, but not just yet.

 

There will be no more night, but the sun still sets once every 24 hours.

rev 22_5

I am looking forward to the moment when every single thing I now believe in faith will be plain to every eye.

I can’t wait to see the redemption of not only my pain, but ALL pain.

I long for the morning when JOY is all I will know.

In that day the New Jerusalem shall descend and there will be no need for the sun or moon, because the LORD Himself will be the light.

All the way around shall be eighteen thousand cubits; and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.

Ezekiel 48:35 NKJV

 

Can I Quit Now?

Yesterday was one of those days-a mixed bag.  I enjoyed an unseasonably cool yet sunny day but sorrow was sighing in the blowing breeze.

I’ll be honest:

I want to quit.

I want to give up.

I’m tired of hauling the extra weight of grief while trying to do the everyday.

charlie brown too tired to cry

Every. single. thing. is harder and takes more effort than it used to.

I want a time-out!  

I’d take even two minutes of absolute unadulterated rest and joy.

I am stronger and more capable than I was, but today, this minute-I’m just plain tired.

I’m often teetering on the brink of despair and forced to throw out my arms in a desperate attempt to maintain my  balance.

Six months ago, in one of my first posts, I wrote:

One reason grief is so exhausting is that every step I take is on a balance beam of faith and hope.

I must navigate every necessary task without falling off.

Read the rest here:  Walking The Balance Beam

 

 

 

 

Identity Crisis

Yeah, so one more thing that grief has made  harder: empty nesting.

While my nest is not technically empty, I have long since finished raising and schooling my children.  I had the great privilege of staying home with my kids and teaching them all the way through high school.  And even in college and graduate school, mom was still editor-in-chief and head of the crisis management center of our home.

I spent a lifetime pouring myself into my family and now they are grown. Sure, they need me now and then, but they are well-established, functioning adults and quite capable without my help.

This is good–I always intended to work myself out of a job.

But losing Dominic, and the burden of grief I carry as a result, has made this transition from “hands-on” to “standing by” that much more difficult.

We all have pictures in our mind of where life is headed–where we imagine ourselves in five years, ten years or even further.  In part, those visions are what make hard days bearable, what keep us going when obstacles seem insurmountable, and what beckon us down the road when we can’t see exactly where it is leading.

I had those.

Now I can’t manage a plan or vision for a single day, much less a year or the rest of my life. I feel as if I am cast adrift in a sea of possiblities but none look inviting. It’s like I have one oar in the water and all I can do is paddle in a circle.

I’m not idle-I keep moving.  I have things to do, but I’m not sure they are things that make a difference.

And I have to admit, it’s a little frightening to think about the future given my recent past experience.

So I’m trying to learn to rest in the arms of the Father.  

Trying to tune my heart to His.

Trying to be patient with myself and with my own impatience.

For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction, to give you an end and patience.

Jeremiah 29:11 DRA

 

Fragile

If you’ve ever had major surgery you know that the outside looks whole way before the inside is healed.

That’s how it is with grief–those of us who have lost a child appear to be strong–we have to be, because life doesn’t stop.

Not even for burying a child.

No matter how tightly I strap on my armor, grief sends arrows through the tiniest unprotected chink and pierces my heart.

There is no defense against the sound, the smell, the wayward memory that sends me back in time to when Dominic was alive and with me.  And once there, to drag myself forward to today—where he is neither—is torture. 

Sometimes the process can be a matter of seconds, the only evidence a blank stare or a single tear.  Other times the memories and the forceful return to the here and now unleashes a flood from my eyes and ends my usefulness for that day.

Either way, it’s exhausting. 

I think that might be one of the most surprising aspects of grief for me.  When it strikes hard (as it still does sometimes) it robs me of energy and the desire to do anything.

I am a “get-it-done” kind of person.  But there’s no way to get grief “done”.  It works itself out in its own time and in its own way.

I can position my mind and my heart to heal by focusing on the promises of God in Scripture.  But I cannot hurry along the healing.

And healing, when it comes, will always be incomplete this side of heaven.

Please don’t mistake the fact that I can stand straight and look strong as proof that I am recovered. 

I am often frightened and sometimes I want to hide.

But vulnerable and wounded, I remain until God calls me home.

“In His feathers He shall deliver you and under His wings you shall have refuge; His truth shall surround you as a supply of armor.”

Psalm 91:4

Weary, but Still Fighting

These thoughts first came to me a few months ago–and since then I felt like I had “progressed” in my grief journey and left anxiety behind.  But for a number of reasons, this past week found me crushed beneath the weight of sorrow and pain and I felt vulnerable and defeated.  

I had to redouble my efforts to resist the enemy and stand firm in the truth that Christ is victorious.

And I was reminded again that this will be a battle I fight as long as I live…

Grief doesn’t travel alone, it brings anxiety along for the ride.

I live by the mantra, “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow!” and I don’t struggle to fend off worry.

But this vague feeling of impending doom that follows grief is invasive and pervasive and relentless.  I can’t stop it, find its edges or outrun it.

If I could just pin it down, I’d toss it out…

I have never been in combat but I am daily doing battle.  The enemy of my soul wants me to give in and give up.  So I push back, dig in and soldier on.

I am worn out and worn down.  

This is the hardest work I have ever done.  No breaks, no vacations, no time-outs or pauses.  And no forward progress.

BUT I REFUSE TO GIVE UP GROUND.

My struggle is not against flesh and blood and my weapons are not physical.  The only hope I have is to remain rooted in the Word of God and to cling to this truth:

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God,

so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger],

and having done everything [that the crisis demands],

to stand firm [in our place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].

Ephesians 6:13 AMP

Worn

I used to think the expression, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was an exaggeration meant to paint a comical picture of someone who didn’t have sense enough to remove pounds of heavy bricks but buckled under the tiniest extra weight of a single straw.

Now I think it accurately describes those of us with no control over the baggage we have to carry and who find that it really is the small things that force us to the ground.

Just when I’m convinced I have this grief load well-balanced so that the weight, though heavy, is bearable, along comes LIFE and throws the whole rig out of kilter.

Grieving my son means that while I can usually get through the day, I have no extra emotional, psychological, physical or spiritual energy to draw on when things get just a little more challenging:

  • I mean to encourage, but miscommunicate my heart to a friend and hurt her feelings.
  • Family members have needs I can’t meet.
  • People I expected to lend a listening ear spend our time together unloading on me instead.
  • My rheumatoid arthritis flares and moving around just plain hurts.

And I realize that the load I thought I was managing is much too heavy and threatens to crush the wind right out of my lungs.

With my strength gone, the sorrow and the missing and the unanswerable questions dog-pile on my prostrate spirit.

The song “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North describes perfectly how I felt last night:

I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win…Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…‘Cause I’m worn…

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win…Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…Cause I’m worn…

And my prayers are wearing thin, I’m worn even before the day begins.
I’m worn I’ve lost my will to fight, I’m worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes.

Let me see redemption win… Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…

When it Doesn’t Feel Like Grace

It’s been said that everything this side of hell is the grace of God.

But burying my child doesn’t feel like grace, it feels like punishment.

Or abandonment.

Or forgetfulness.

I cannot add my voice to the modern Christian chorus of “Everything happens for a reason”.

Is this my tree, set in the midst of my garden?  The one about which God says, “Trust Me”?

I am tempted to argue, tempted to try to frame the meaning of my test in terms my human heart can understand.

“God must not love me.”

“He must be hiding something.”

I am faced with the same question that mocked my first mother, “Did God really say?”

And, like Eve, I am tempted to give in to the fear that draws my soul to doubt the wisdom and goodness of God.

Why would He bring me to this place where I am forced to walk obediently in trust and without light?

But these are whispers of the enemy of my soul, luring me away from the only Source of hope and comfort that there is.

And he is skilled at turning my feelings against the truth.

I am powerless to fight the serpent in my own strength, too weak to answer what seem like reasonable questions.

So I throw myself on the mercy of Him Who made me, of Him Who brought me to this point of testing.

In my weakness I rest in His strength.

and finally He said to me, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on—I would rather stake my claim in these and have the power of the Anointed One at home within me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 VOICE