Some Days are Like That

I am better able to face the morning than I was in the first days and weeks after Dominic’s death.  I am more adept at laying aside the overwhelming sorrow and focusing on what needs to be done.  I can flash a smile, make small talk, act “normal” and participate in daily activities.

But there are still days….

Days when I cannot think of anything but the fact that he’s gone. Moments when sadness invades my heart and fills my soul. Hours when I just want to find a way to forget that every tomorrow will include the absence of Dominic’s presence and the fullness of joy I once knew before my world included burying a child.

And on those days and in those moments, a quiet word of encouragement can send a piercing ray of hope like a silver light into my heart.  A smile, a nod, a hug or a note can be the thread I hold onto as I struggle to pull myself up from the depths of despair.

I’m not the only one walking around with wounds.  I am not alone in the darkness of pain and heartbreak.

Jesus came to offer hope to the hopeless.  To lift up the downtrodden. To free the captives and open the eyes of the blind:

  The Spirit of the Almighty Lord is with me
    because the Lord has anointed me
        to deliver good news to humble people.
    He has sent me
        to heal those who are brokenhearted,
        to announce that captives will be set free
            and prisoners will be released.

Isaiah 61:1-2 GW

Our Savior walked tenderly among us and did not crush even the most wounded:

“A broken reed He will not break [off]
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish [He will not harm those who are weak and suffering];
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Isaiah 42:3 AMP

As we move toward the celebration of life over death, victory over defeat, hope over despair, may each of us be a beacon of light to someone walking in darkness.

May our hands reach out to help, our lips speak mercy and grace and may our hearts be so full of love that it spills out onto everyone we meet.  

Some of us tend to do away with things that are slightly damaged….When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds.

We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.

– Henri J. M. Nouwen

 

Choosing Transparency

I’ve had two conversations in as many days that revolved around how hard it is to be transparent in relationships.

And it seems that the difficulty lies not only in our own desire to present ourselves in a way that casts a positive light on our actions, thoughts and feelings but also because of an unspoken rule in social transactions that demands (and I don’t think “demand”is too strong a word) we conform to the “I’m doing just fine” standard that is prevalent everywhere you turn.

All around me, people are faking life.

They are acting as if there are no hurdles, no burdens, no wounded places in their own hearts.  They run around proclaiming, “this is my best life now!” somehow convinced that if they say it loud enough and long enough it will be true.

But everyone sees what we think we are hiding.

Many know what we think we’re not saying.

And we all walk around, seeing and knowing but never acknowledging the truth:  we are not as strong or as perfect as we wish we were.

All this fake life is costly.  It’s costly to us who try so very hard to keep up appearances-it robs our lives of energy that would be better used in loving and serving others.  It is costly to the people around us because as long as we play the game, they feel like they must play along too.

And everywhere, hurting people hurt alone.  Scared people remain isolated in their fear.

That is not the life Jesus came to give us.  That is not the way to build true community among His called-out ones.  That is not the way to teach our children how to lean into and hold onto the strength and hope that Christ died to bring.

When I lost Dominic, many feelings overwhelmed me-sorrow, pain, disbelief-and, to my surprise, humility.

For the first time in my life it made sense to me why in many cultures bereaved people sit in the dirt and tear their clothes.  Because I remember saying over and over, “I am cast to the ground, and ashes are my food.”

And while that feeling is no longer as strong as it once was, it still echoes in my heart and mind.  I carry it with me wherever I go.  It has freed me from the game of “let’s pretend” that held me hostage to other people’s expectations of how I should act or what I should hide from public view.

Let’s just STOP.

Let’s be honest.

Let’s refuse to hide our scars, our tears, our fears and our failures.

If those of us who love Jesus refuse to acknowledge our weakness, how do we expect others to acknowledge their need for a Savior?

“The Christian often tries to forget his weakness; God wants us to remember it, to feel it deeply. The Christian wants to conquer his weakness and to be freed from it; God wants us to rest and even rejoice in it. The Christian mourns over his weakness; Christ teaches His servant to say, ‘I take pleasure in infirmities. Most gladly …will I…glory in my infirmities’ (2 Cor. 12:9)’ The Christian thinks his weaknesses are his greatest hindrance in the life and service of God; God tells us that it is the secret of strength and success. It is our weakness, heartily accepted and continually realized, that gives our claim and access to the strength of Him who has said, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness”

― Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ

Goodness of God

“God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.” ~popular church saying.

I’ve never been comfortable with direction from the pulpit instructing people in the congregation to “repeat after me”.  Maybe I’m a little rebellious, but it always seemed disingenuous to appropriate someone else’s sentiment for my own.

And I think there is danger in adopting pet phrases to explain God (as if He can be explained) and creating shorthand for concepts that require so much more discussion to even begin to understand.

In fact, I think these bumper sticker mantras and t-shirt worthy slogans often push genuine seekers to the fringe because they cannot embrace simplistic explanations for complex issues.

I admit that there are times they slip from my mouth.  I might be too lazy to engage with someone or too hurried to take time to really listen to their heart.

But in the wake of losing my son, I’ve become much more aware of how simply repeating one-liners falls so very short in meeting the needs of those around me.

“God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.”

When spoken to someone whose life is going well seems like a benediction, an affirmation–a confirmation that God’s seal of approval rests on them and results in physical blessing.

“God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.”

When spoken to someone whose world is crumbling sounds like a rebuke or reproof–adjust your attitude because it can’t really be as bad as all that!

I think we misunderstand God’s goodness in each case.

I want to think of God’s goodness in terms of concrete benefits that I can point to in the physical world.  I want  to see tidy endings to messy stories that wrap things up so I can wrap my mind around them. I like stories of miraculous healing, safety in the midst of storms, provision from out of nowhere.

But so many who love Jesus die.  And there are Christ followers around the world who starve and who have no place to lay their head.  Are they unfaithful?  Are they unworthy?

I am beginning to embrace the truth that I have no idea, really, of what “good” is when I try to  use the word to describe  God. I cannot limit God’s goodness to only what I can see, feel, taste or touch.

I am learning that “good”, when speaking of God, is higher and bigger and different than anything I know.  My mind is not capable of comprehending the goodness of God in all its aspects and manifestations.

I have experienced the faithfulness of God, the provision of God and the Presence of God in the midst of this pain-but I had also experienced those things before my son left us.

I do not see the “good” in burying my son.

But right now I walk in half-light, in shadows and in partial revelation.  I cannot wrap my ongoing experience in the shadow of the valley of death into a tidy chapter book with a happy ending.

And I refuse to adopt simple explanations of the mystery of this pain.

I am living the story, leaning on God, trusting in His character and waiting for His revelation of how this apparent defeat will ultimately be victorious.

So I trust the truth of Scripture that tells me goodness is the character of God. And I rest in my past experience that in Christ all God’s promises are “yes” and “amen”.

And I long desperately,like a drowning man gasping for air, for the day when I will know fully even as I am fully known.

For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know andunderstand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. I Corinthians 13:12 AMPC

 

 

Am I Normal?

Believe me, no one wonders more than I if the things I’m feeling, the things I’m doing and the rate at which I am healing is “normal”.

I belong to a couple of bereavement support groups and a recurring theme is, “Am I crazy?  Is this the way it is supposed to be?”

Sometimes grieving parents wonder these things because of their own misgivings.

But often, we question our feelings and experience because of external pressure.

And that is unfortunate and unfair.

When a mom brings her new baby home from the hospital, people are quick to remind her that life “will never be the same”.

She is encouraged to seek advice and help from friends and family and given space and time to figure out this new way of being.  As the years pass, she might express frustration and concern over the challenges of going back to work, sleepless nights, feeding issues, potty training, and dozens of other, everyday struggles that result from welcoming this little person into the family.  And that is just the beginning. 

No one thinks it strange that the ADDITION of a child is a life-long adjustment.

So, why, why, why is it strange that the SUBTRACTION of a child would also require accommodation for the rest of a mother’s life?

My heart grew larger when Dominic was born and the space that is his cannot and will not be filled by anyone or anything else.

I am learning each day to work around this empty spot.  I am becoming stronger and better able to carry the weight of grief that I must bear.

I can do many of the things I used to do before the only place I could visit Dominic was at the cemetary.

But I have to do them differently.  I need more help.  It takes more time. And sometimes I find after I plan to go somewhere that I am just not able to go after all.

I will never “get over” burying my son.

There will always be another mountain to climb, another loss to mourn, another hurdle to clear in this grief journey.

Dominic is part of me.  That didn’t change when he went home to be with Jesus.

The absence of his presence is EVERYWHERE.

And just for the record–missing the child I love for the rest of my life is perfectly normal.

 

 

You Existed, You Exist

Sometimes this thought is  what gets me through the day:

You existed, you exist.

Sometimes I say it to his photo on my phone:

You existed, you exist.

Sometimes I want to scream it out the window:

YOU EXISTED! YOU EXIST!

My son is not a number or a statistic or only a memory.

He is integral to my story, blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh–part of my life.

I rest assured he lives in heaven with Jesus but I miss him here with me. That’s selfish, I know.  But I can’t seem to help it.

I don’t know how to be glad that my young, healthy, brilliant child died-just like that-here one moment, gone the next.

The broken heart of every parent who has buried a child cries out:

My child existed..

He lived.

He mattered.

My child exists still.

He lives.

He matters.

 

 

“Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,
    walk away from the baby she bore?” ~Isaiah 49:15 MSG

[Context]

This picture was taken for a story in UAB Magazine featuring my husband and oldest son who graduated together in December 2009. You can read the original article here: Like Father, Like Son

It is one of my very favorites. I was surrounded by my family, filled with pride and promise.

This is how I like to think of us-together and strong. 

Our circle is broken now-it is a continuing struggle to figure out how to navigate life in the wake of our loss.

And some of the greatest challenges present themselves in unexpected ways.

Redefining how to think about and present my family to the world led me to the solution presented in this post:

[Context]

 

 

Child Loss: The Question of Photographs

When I shared this post awhile back, it sparked quite a discussion among friends and an online community of bereaved parents to which I belong.

Pictures are a mixed blessing to those of us who have buried a child:

We love to see our dear one’s face beaming back at us but we also long to touch and hold the one represented by the two-dimensional image.  And when others share a photo on Facebook or Instagram, we are sometimes caught off-guard as our newsfeed scrolls by–There he is!  Our hearts stop for a moment.

I love to get pictures of my son through email or in notes and letters-many are ones I would otherwise never know about.  So if you have photos that a bereaved parent might like to see, think about sharing them.  And write a line or two about how our child is still part of your life.

We miss our children and welcome ways to connect with them through others.

“Pictures are everywhere today–much different than when I was a child and you had to go down to the local studio to get a decent family photo. Poloroids were fun and fast, but the number of shots you could take was limited to the film in the packet.

One of the challenges facing bereaved parents is what to do about photographs–both the ones that exist and the ones yet to be taken.”

Read the rest: Bereaved Parents and The Question of Photographs