Stick Around: Help Another Heart Hold Onto Hope

When grief was fresh, the pain was raw and my heart was oh, so tender, I desperately needed a safe space to talk about the nitty-gritty of child loss.

And I found it in online bereaved parents’ groups.  

I’m so thankful that they exist, that they are maintained by people who give time and energy to keeping them safe and that-for the most part-participants are kind, compassionate and encouraging.

There is something I’ve noticed now that I’ve been here awhile.  Many parents tend to drop out of active participation when they get a little further along in their journey. 

I understand completely that time, plus the work grief requires, often means a heart has less need for these groups.  It’s not that grief dissipates, it’s simply that we get stronger and learn to carry it a little better.

I also know that grief groups can become  Echo Chambers and wear on a heart after a time.

We all need a break.

But can I take a moment to encourage those among us who have learned a little, lived a little and walked longer in the path of child loss to stick around?

Newly bereaved parents need to know that they CAN survive.

Your presence-even if you don’t have wonderful words of wisdom-speaks volumes. 

When someone comments and shares that her loss was 5, 7, 10 years ago, it helps my heart hold onto hope. 

Because if YOU can make it, maybe I can too.  

buckets to put out flames

Accepting My Limitations

I’m no quitter.

I grew up with the mantra, “You can be anything you want to be if you want to be it badly enough” ringing through my childhood.

I added this one for my kids:  “Failure is not an option.”

But I’ve got to admit, while both are great motivators when motivation is the missing ingredient, they are lies.

I cannot be “anything I want to be”.  I can be the best me possible, but I cannot be anyone but me.

authenticity embracing who we are daily practice

And failure-well, how do you want to define that?  Is it failure when you have poured every ounce of energy into a person or a project and things just don’t work like you hoped they would?  Is it failure when despite all the planning, pursuing and perseverance a heart can muster life takes a giant left turn you never expected?

One of my favorite but most exasperating memories of Dominic is when he was about six months old and would wake every morning close to 3 a.m. and refuse to go back to sleep.  Now, judge me if you want to, but this whole “let them cry it out” thing was not in my parenting wheelhouse.  With two other siblings and a small house, if he was crying for hours, it meant soon everyone would be awake.

So after nursing him and trying to get him to go back to sleep, I finally gave up and just went into the living room and let him play.

This went on for weeks-my body was so, so tired and I was frustrated beyond imagination.

Until I realized that I was burning more energy being upset over the inevitable than I was in just getting up and enjoying the one on one time with my baby.

So instead of fussing every early morning, I started getting up, making coffee, playing with him and then doing necessary chores while he prattled on with his toys.

I accepted what was out of my control and made the best of it.

That’s how I feel this side of Dominic running ahead to heaven.

I am not the person I used to be.

I cannot do all the things I used to do.

I need to acknowledge that.  I need to let go of unrealistic expectations that only drive me to distraction and despair. 

courage starts with showing up water

I’m freeing myself to lean into the life I have NOW by admitting it’s not the life I USED to have.

I’m not giving up. 

I am letting go of excess emotional baggage.

But I’m holding onto hope with both hands. 

holding onto hope dandilion

A Challenging Year: For Better or Worse

One year ago today I came in from Wednesday night church to a message on my answering machine:

“Melanie, when you get this, call me on my cell phone.  I’m on my way to Dothan.  Your mama was lifeflighted and I’m headed to the hospital”

I have no idea what else my dad said because that was as far as I got before shutting down the message and dialing his number with shaky fingers.

Because when you’ve endured the worst possible news-the news that is utterly final-it only takes half a second for your brain and body to jump from alright to utterly terrified.

So began nearly three months of trying to help my mother recover from a fall, a heart attack and serious complications from congestive heart failure.

It’s been a year and she’s doing so much better.

But it has been a hard row to hoe as they say in the South.

Papa has carried the lion’s share of the burden. 

He’s learned to keep up with Mama’s medications, her doctor’s appointments and plan menus.  He’s had to decipher the complex world of home health care, durable medical equipment and getting a handicapped parking tag.  He’s cooked, cleaned and kept Mama company since she is unable to go anywhere by herself anymore.

And that means he is as homebound as she.

Of course, poor Mama has had to endure all kinds of medical procedures, uncomfortable hospital beds, loss of autonomy and is now tethered to oxygen.  

I am oh, so proud of both of them!  

They are learning to live this new life together.  

Which is exactly what I expected from a pair that has done just that for over 57 years!

wedding rings

Repost: Baby Steps and Falling Forward

Sometimes I schedule a post the night before and wake up to a day that contradicts everything I just wrote.

Grief is like that.

Good day.  Bad day.  Better day. Worse day.

Read the rest here:  Baby Steps and Falling Forward

Shifting The Weight, Bearing the Burden

I told the two children with me that morning that we were going to survive this awful blow.

And we have.

It has been hard and ugly and more painful than anything else we’ve ever had to do. 

But we’re still standing.

And I want to encourage the hearts that are just starting down this broken road:  You really CAN make it.

Some of you reading this are saying, “But I don’t want to make it.  I want to lie down and give up and be out of this pain.”  

I don’t blame you. 

That’s precisely how my heart felt for months and months.  The only thing that kept me holding onto hope was a strong desire that my precious family not have to bury another person they loved.  It was enough to force my lungs to draw one more breath, and then another, and then another.

ok to just breathe

The breaths turned into minutes turned into hours turned into days-then weeks, months and finally, years.

Here I am, four plus years into this Valley and I can tell you this:

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

Yes, every single minute grief runs like background noise in my brain.  I can go from OK to devastated in a heartbeat.

Yes, I miss Dominic like crazy.

I miss the family we used to have.

I miss the me I used to be.

But I am also living, loving and even laughing my way through many days.

I can go from tearful to joyful in a heartbeat too.  I am even more grateful for the children that walk the earth with me.  I try harder to be present, to listen, to lean in and love more fully.

The broken me is a more compassionate woman who knows the value of a minute spent with someone you love.  

I’ve learned to shift the weight of grief to one hip and make room for other things.  

It’s hard.  

It’s going to stay hard. 

But with God’s help, I’m strong enough to make it.  

track record for bad days is 100

Helping Hearts Hold Onto Hope

I’ve always been a bit of a cheerleader.

cheerleadere

Not THAT kind of cheerleader!

But the kind that stands alongside the road handing cups of water to the struggling stragglers in the far back of a marathon.

handing water

Because I believe in doing your best and finishing the race, even if it’s hard and even if it’s not pretty.

hobbling-runner

I also think that often the difference between giving up and giving in or going on and getting done is courage.

Not the “in your face I’m gonna fight you” courage of action movies but the quiet, everyday courage of simply carrying on when you’re tired, worn down and empty of hope.

And the thing about courage is this:  I can lend you some of mine.

That’s really what cheer leading is all about-calling courage to another heart, lending courage from the sidelines.

So many wounded hearts are walking around, barely holding onto hope, and all it takes is a few minutes, a few words, an outstretched hand, a smile, an open door or a pat on the back to strengthen their grip.

So when you see that downcast face, that defeated stooping shoulder, that exasperated mama toting three kids into the grocery store-don’t turn away.

Reach out. 

Hand a cup of kind words in the name of Jesus.

Help a heart hold onto hope.

word of encouragement is the fuel for hope

Keeping It Real: It’s STILL Hard

When I started writing, Dominic had been gone nearly 18 months.  

Before I went public with my thoughts, I had filled six journals with page after page of ramblings, Scripture, quotes from books, questions and tears.  

Those are some of my most precious possessions because when I look back I can see how even in the very first hours (yes, I started writing that morning) God was already bringing truth and healing to my shattered soul and broken heart.  

In a couple months it will be three years since I started sharing here.  And while I rarely look back on the posts in any orderly way, I can see that God has continued His faithfulness when I do.

But just like I promised when I wrote the introduction to my site, I will always be as honest as possible when I share.  

So let me just tell you:  It’s STILL hard.  

Not in the same first, breath-robbing, soul-crushing, can’t-lift-my-head sort of way that makes a heart certain it can. not. survive.

But in a slow-leak, not-enough-air-in-my-tires sort of way that makes every road less comfortable to travel and necessitates lots of stops to make sure I can keep going.

I’ve just endured two weeks of one bad thing after another.  

All of them have a solution which (on my scale) makes them hardly worth noting.  

But each disrupted my life and will require significant time, energy and resources to address.  

And for a heart that has learned how to make it by going slow, choosing predictable paths and incorporating lots of stops along the way, those kinds of disruptions create stress and strain on an already taxed system. 

I will absolutely survive.  

I’ve already survived the cruelest and most difficult days of my life.  

But it’s no cake walk.  

It’s still hard.

track record for bad days is 100