Grief Coping Strategy: Derailing 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.

But now (at five years into this journey) I have some default visualizations that help me break unfruitful mental cycles.

I might imagine details from my childhood-recreating a room or an experience-or recite Scripture, hymns or poems.  Sometimes I force myself to delineate my next day’s tasks precisely and in order.

I am always very careful what I watch, read or meditate on before bedtime because if I plant a seed of fear or dystopia it flowers in my dreams.

And then there are the days when responsibilities lead me down memory lane-going through photos for my daughter’s wedding, consolidating boxes to make room for my husband’s retirement, hunting a particular item for the holidays or another family celebration-and I have a hard time not sinking into despair because Dom’s just not here.

But at five years those are no longer utterly uncontrollable feelings.

I’ve learned ways of diffusing, distracting and redirecting my thoughts to help me deal with them in the moment: 

  • If possible, I stop the activity that triggered the feelings or thoughts and switch to something else.  Sometimes just turning my back makes all the difference.
  • I focus on a non-triggering detail.  Shifting my eyes often shifts my thoughts.
  • If in a group of people, I force myself to listen to the conversations around me and ignore my own thoughts.
  • If alone, I speak the feeling/thought aloud.  Breaking the silence can break the cycle.

Then, (often) I’ll have a meltdown later, but at a time when I can afford it better.

I’ve said over and over that the absolute weight of this burden has not changed but my ability to carry it has grown through practice and doing the work grief requires.

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

Every time I overcome my fear, I redirect my thoughts, I face my feelings and refuse to let them paralyze me, I’m stronger.

weights-dumbbells

 

 

 

Repost: It’s My Story And I’ll Cry If I Want To

I don’t cry nearly as much as I used to.

That kind of bothers me.

I don’t know if I’m just not as sad or if I’ve just used up most of my tears.

I think it’s a bit of both.

Read the rest here:  It’s My Story and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Repost: What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.  

In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”

It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group.  After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.

But, oh, when I did! What relief!  What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!

Read the rest here:  What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

Twenty-Three Years, Ten Months, Fifteen Days and Holding

Today would be Dominic’s twenty-ninth birthday.  

Except it isn’t.  

Because I have absolutely NO IDEA if anyone is aware of the passage of time in Heaven or if birthdays are even a thing there.

So instead of celebrating another year with my third born, I’m celebrating the years I had with him-too few as far as my heart’s concerned.

I am oh, so thankful for the time I had.  

But my heart cries, “More! More!”

I’m no good at this “birthday in absentia” thing.  This is the sixth time May 28th has rolled around without Dominic here to eat cake, open presents or break his usually strict dieting rules and gobble down pasta.

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A couple of years I’ve purchased a cake in secret at a local bakery for a child that shares Dom’s birthday.

Most years I’ve quietly remembered the events leading to his birth including what now feels like a prescient experience:  my obstetrician’s nurse came into the room as I was waiting for a C-section delivery and whispered, “Dr. H is here, but his daughter completed suicide yesterday”.  *

When they brought Dom close to my head so I could kiss him before they whisked him away and sewed me up, tears streamed down my face.  I really had NO CLUE, but I realized (in a tiny way) that this man was here ushering life into the world as his own heart was breaking for a life that was no more.

All I could say was, “Thank you!  I am so, so sorry.”

And I meant it.  

Now I know what it cost him to be there.  What it cost him to see a family made larger at the moment his (earthly) family had been made smaller.

This year we are at my oldest son’s home savoring the first precious moments holding our grandson.  Born too early, his story could have ended badly.

It didn’t and for that I am thankful.  

Ryker’s original due date was May 27th-one day before Dominic’s birthday.

It’s fitting that we have a new life to celebrate even as we celebrate missing Dom.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to merge these two lives, these opposite feelings, this joy and sorrow meeting in my heart.  

I vacillate between overwhelming sadness and overwhelming gratitude that my grandson’s story is beautiful, remarkable, nearly miraculous.  

So today I will try to honor Dominic-who he was, who he still is (even more so and perfectly in Heaven!) and the precious gift of another generation to love, nurture and cherish.

I’ll try to lay aside the awful knowledge I carry in my heart that any day things can change.  What you never thing can happen DOES happen.

I’ll celebrate love.  

Because love lives forever.  

Always. 

they know love lives william penn

*Dominic was killed instantly in a single vehicle motorcycle accident April 12, 2014.

Child Loss: Adding Up The Missed Milestones

So we went to my niece’s high school graduation this week.  

It was another in a recent long line of events Dominic was not here to celebrate with us.  

Another set of pictures missing his grin, his shoulders, his goofy antics, his presence.

It’s really beginning to add up. 

And it hurts.  

We were plunged headlong into some important celebrations in the first two months after Dominic left us-two graduations and a wedding.  But there was a kind of lingering aura that made it a little more bearable.  Everyone involved KNEW Dominic.  So while he was not there bodily, he was present nonetheless because so many people carried a piece of him in their hearts, had stories to tell and made comments about how he would have done this or that.

My niece obviously knew Dominic.  And that’s a comfort.  But the last time he saw her she was just entering her teen years.  Now she’s leaving high school headed toward adulthood.

Fiona’s new husband never met Dom.  His friends are a world set apart from our pre-loss life.  His family knows Fiona lost a brother and me a son but they have no idea how that fact changes everything.  They can’t.  They don’t have anything to compare it to.

My sweet little grandson will grow up hearing stories but never seeing the man behind them.  He will perceive Uncle Dominic as a tale told sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter but never be the target of Dominic’s sometimes wicked humor nor feel the comfort of his strong arms.

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In some ways five years might as well be a lifetime.  

So much has changed.  

So much I want to talk over with Dominic.

So much I wish he was here to see.

I know he is perfectly content in Heaven with Jesus.  He’s not missing out on a thing!  But I can’t stop my heart from selfishly wanting him here with me as well.

It’s like playing a piano with a sticky key-somehow the melody is always just a little off. 

Never quite right. 

missing them from your side

Grief is a Family Affair

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

There is definitely a time and place for professional counseling.  Many, many families benefit from having a trained individual, outside the immediate grief circle, guide them in exploring feelings, developing coping strategies and learning to live life this side of loss.

But there is also something to be said for arranging casual open-ended activities with surviving siblings, parents and even grandparents where space and a more relaxed atmosphere often leads to honest sharing.

This graphic has lots of excellent suggestions for how to craft such a space.

Not all will be suitable for every family, but every family should be able to find a few that fit.

I’ll add these guidelines that may help your family make the best choice for YOU:

  • Don’t force it.  If you make an offer of an activity and it drops with a thud to the ground, let it go.  You might be able to do it another time.
  • Don’t make it (what my kids like to say!) a “mandatory option”.  There must be no guilt or coercion invading this space.  If one or more of your family members consistently refuse to join in, consider asking a close family friend to take that individual out alone and see what might be going on.
  • If you choose a movie or other story-themed activity, LOOK UP THE PLOT!  I can’t tell you how many times we were sideswiped by a death scene or some other heavy emotional plot twist.  There may be a time when your family is prepared to experience those things together (we can now) but it may not be yet.
  • Mix and match more structured activities with open-ended ones like walks outside, watching the sunset, sitting on the beach, hanging at the pool, playing a game (not too competitive-that will sometimes bring out hidden anger).
  • If you have a family with a broad range of ages you might have to do some things with the littles and some with the older kids.  You can always add one or two activities a month or quarter where everyone (or as many as are available) gets together.
  • If your children, spouse, parent or other close griever begins to talk-let them.  If tears flow-that’s progress!  If ugly feelings are expressed, listen.  Try not to be defensive.  Try to hear the hurt behind the words.  It’s OK to set ground rules like using “I” statements and not blaming.  But don’t shut them out or shut them down.  

These are just ideas.  

Google is your friend and your phone is probably already in your hand or pocket-use it.

Find things that fit YOUR family. 

The only way through is through.  

You have to feel and deal to heal. 

selfcare for families

Repost: How and Why I Keep Writing-A Shepherd’s Heart

I am still utterly amazed that since November 2015 I have managed a blog post every day.

At first, I was writing because I wanted to make public the things I was learning in this Valley and to honor my missing son.  

dominic at tims wedding

He had been in Heaven a year and a half by then and it was clear to this mama’s heart that (1) people (including ME before it WAS me!) had absolutely NO IDEA what life after child loss was like once the funeral was over;  (2) one way to redeem this pain was to share how God had been faithful even as I struggled; and (3) I just didn’t see too many honest portrayals of life after loss for Christ followers (which is not to say they didn’t/don’t exist but I hadn’t found them).

So I wrote.

Read the rest here:  How and Why I Keep Writing: A Shepherd’s Heart