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

Love in Action: Some Things Hurt

Bereavement has not made me a perfectly compassionate person.  I still say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and sometimes don’t do the right thing.

But it HAS made me more aware that what I do/don’t do/say/don’t say can either speak life or death to a struggling heart.

And I so want to speak life and courage to everyone I meet.

Before I lost Dominic, I know that I, like others who had never experienced the death of a child, undoubtedly said and did things that were hurtful instead of helpful.

I painfully remember sharing at a Thanksgiving women’s gathering and, meaning to encourage the ladies, said something like, “I think we are able to better face the big disappointments or trials in life, but find the daily drip, drip, drip of unfulfilled expectations to be a greater challenge.”  A bereaved mom in attendance set me straight (in a very kind and gracious manner!).

That exchange has come often to my mind in these months after burying my son. I wish I could go back and have a do-over.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Some Things Hurt

Choosing To Be Seen

It’s tempting to hide.

All I have to do is stay home or plaster on the “I’m fine” mask before I leave my driveway and venture out into the world.

Because, frankly, sometimes I just don’t want to explain why I’m crying again, struggling still, walking wounded and not “healed”.

But it’s not healthy.

I cannot selectively numb my emotions.  When I push down the painful, I slam the lid on all of it-joy and love included.

cannot selectively numb emotion brene brown

It takes courage to choose to be seen.

It’s hard to choose to walk honestly and openly in the world.

It’s risky to offer my authentic self up to an often inattentive, insensitive and critical audience.  
vulnerability brene brown

But if I am to be truly known then I must choose to let others see my struggle and allow them to witness my failures and heartache.  

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

Truth is, when I hide I forfeit real connection. 

There’s no authentic relationship without vulnerability.  

connection brene brown

I want deep and authentic bonds with family and friends.  

I don’t want to hide.  

I want to be seen.

 

Chronic: Continuing, Ceaseless, Unabating

Chronic:  (of a problem) long-lasting and difficult to eradicate.
Synonyms:  constant, continuing, ceaseless, unabating, unending, persistent, long-lasting, severe, serious, grave, dire

If you’ve followed the blog for long, you know I have Rheumatoid Arthritis.  What you may not know is that it is not at all like the arthritis most people experience as they age.  Instead of a gradual wearing out of joints due to use and, sometimes, injury, RA is the result of my body attacking itself.

I was 44 when diagnosed after both ankles suddenly swelled so that I could barely walk. 

I’ve been living with it for over ten years. 

It’s a chronic disease.  It can be treated with greater or lesser success to modify and mediate symptoms, but it is always, always, always there.  And it affects every aspect of my life-from getting dressed to driving a car.

I find that most folks just don’t understand that.  

We are used to getting sick, going to the doctor and being prescribed a drug or treatment or even surgery and getting well (after some period of time).

But some things can’t be “fixed” and must simply be “managed” and endured.

endurance is patience concentrated

Child loss is like that.  

It cannot be fixed. 

It cannot be healed. 

It cannot be undone or ignored or sequestered so that it doesn’t impact daily life.

And that is hard for people to understand if they’ve never dealt with a chronic illness or other circumstance that defies remedy.

Every morning I walk down my stairs one step at a time like a toddler because my joints are too stiff to bend until I’ve been up for a few hours-that’s how I have to accommodate my arthritis.

Every morning I sit in my rocking chair and journal and talk to other bereaved parents before daybreak-that’s how I have to accommodate my grief.

Neither of these conditions is a choice.  

Each of them happened TO me-not because of anything I did or did not do.

And they are life-long.  

Continuing.

Ceaseless.

Unabating.

Exhausting.
grief and pain and forever

Practice Makes Permanent

The first time I heard him say it I thought I had misunderstood.

“Practice makes permanent.”  

Yep, that’s exactly what he said.

As I watched the Tae Kwon Do instructor work with the young boys striving to copy his perfect form I began to understand. Some students worked hard to make their movements precise and as close to perfect as possible.  Some were just going through the motions.

Kids on karate.

Either way, they were creating muscle memory and training their bodies to recall the moves just as they practiced them.

Practice makes permanent. 

Perfect practice makes perfect.  

It’s much the same with our thoughts.

In Romans Paul says:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

Romans 12:2 PHILLIPS

What I think about, dwell on and mull over becomes permanent.

I have to guard the gates of my mind so that I don’t fill it with untruth.  

I have to practice recalling the goodness, faithfulness and lovingkindness of God so that I don’t feel abandoned.

I must saturate my thoughts with Scripture if I don’t want to drown in doubt.  

I’m thankful for the years and years of Bible study I had under my belt when Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have been strong enough or willing to do the deep digging necessary to feed my soul if it was not already my practice to turn to Scripture in times of great trial.

i-have-hidden-your-word-in-my-heart

Even when my heart was shattered and my faith strained,  my mind fell readily into the ruts that practice had put there.  

Practice makes permanent. 

Yes, yes it does.  

God’s comfort does not usually smooth the road we travel, nor does it make us jubilantly happy. But it does make us strong for our trials. God’s comfort is not good feelings but worthy deeds. The heart that exults in God’s comfort is like that of a champion who confidently runs his course, though with pain. It is not like the ease of one who indulges his appetite. ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,’ not your ease (Nehemiah 8:10).

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration, p. 73

 

 

 

 

 

How Can I Deal With Anxious Thoughts?

I no longer have to imagine the worst thing that could happen in the life of a mother-I know exactly how it feels. 

And if I allow my heart to ponder that too often or too long, it consumes me.

So I am learning to take those anxious thoughts captive, learning to make them live in only a small corner of my mind instead of taking it over completely.

It takes effort and discipline, but it’s possible.  

I don’t have to live the rest of my days a quivering mess…

Read the rest here:  Dealing With Anxious Thoughts

You are Braver than You Think

Child loss is not the only devastating life circumstance that can make a person want to hide in bed.  

Every single day, broken hearts, broken bodies and limping spirits open their eyes to the dawn and choose to get up and get going.

If that is you, I want you to know this: 

You are strong.

You are brave.  

You are not invisible.  

braver stronger smarterYou may never be recognized in this life for the heroic struggle you face every day but it counts.

Endurance is triumph.  

Perseverance is conquest.  

Choosing brave in the face of fear is victory.  

fear is what we feel brave is what we do