Worn Slap Out

The best remedy for my heart on the days when grief rolls in like morning fog and refuses to burn off with sunshine is hard work.

If weather permits I go outside and move hay bales, pick up limbs, cut weeds or do anything that requires large muscles to accomplish the task.  The goal is exhaustion so I can sleep.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’ll try to tackle jobs inside that I otherwise tend to ignore.  If you ever see me cleaning the bathroom or kitchen sink fixtures with a toothbrush, just leave me alone-I’m working something out.

So these past days leading up to Dominic’s birthday, that’s what I’ve done.

I sheared sheep, raked out a hay shed, moved hay, medicated horses, dogs and goats, picked up limbs brought down by rain and high winds, vacuumed, washed clothes, cleaned bathrooms and organized (sort of) my closet.

The ungrateful sheep and the silly cat kneading his paws while I’m bent over shearing her. 

photo (44)

Skinks are some of the happier surprises when moving hay.  Snakes and ants not so much.

 

The good thing about so many critters that eat grass is that I rarely cut it.

Now I’m worn slap out!

I think I’ll hit the sack.

fatigue is the best pillow

The Inestimable Value of Rest

It’s not the same as just doing nothing.

Sitting still doesn’t guarantee that the mind remains quiet or the spirit settled.

I know, because sometimes I’ve been forced to stay perched in a chair like a toddler in time out and it was not restful.

At.

All.

But the other day I did spend time in my favorite rocking chair, cozied up to a heating pad with my cat companion

and wrote

and wrote

and wrote.

It was wonderful! And it restored my soul.

I haven’t enjoyed something like that in several months.  Things to do had crowded my schedule, places to go and people to see or talk to had used up nearly every waking moment.

I let rest-genuine, soul-restoring rest-be pushed aside in hopes of making progress on a never-ending list of necessary tasks.

What I failed to take into account was that the more weary I became, the less effective my efforts and the less enthusiastic my attitude-not to mention my rebellious body!

I don’t know why I push harder when I shouldn’t be pushing at all.  Because when I don’t build rest into my schedule, I’m sorely tempted to give up and give in-every little thing becomes a struggle!

The most productive people know when to take a break.  The highest yielding fields remain untilled from time to time.  

Life is hard and if I’m going to make it on this long and laborious journey, I’ve got to learn to take my own best advice:

take-rest-by-ovid

 

Daily Battle: Tempted to Give Up

So many things raced through my mind in the first five minutes of hearing the news:

Oh, God!  Is it true? (I have to authenticate his identity);

How do I tell everyone? (I have to make phone calls);

What do you do when your child dies? (I have no idea how to plan a funeral);

and on

and on

and on.

Of course, that doesn’t touch the FEELINGS flooding my heart.

I don’t really have words for that, even now.

But as the days of crazy activity and people everywhere gave way to the weeks and months of silent sorrow, all I wanted to do was to give up and give in.

What was the point of carrying on if it meant carrying this weight of sadness until I was also in the grave?

At first, my motivation was to help my husband and children through these crisis moments.  My training gave me tools to give them words and ways to frame the pain. Hours of home “therapy” drained me but also gave me a sense of purpose and  direction.

It was a couple of months into this journey when  I faced my first test:  I suffer from a gastrointestinal condition that predisposes me to catastrophic GI bleeds.  Combined with the medications I take for RA, I woke one morning to find I was losing large amounts of blood.

It was nearly welcome news.

As weakness overtook my body, I could feel the lure of simply drifting away into eternity.  I was tempted to lie down on the bed and allow my heart rate to decrease, my blood pressure to dive and my soul to break free from this body of death.

But I didn’t-because I could not knowingly add to my family’s heartache.

No one was home so I drove myself to the emergency room and was admitted to the ICU. Several days and units of blood later I came home, restored to life but not unburdened of grief.

And so it goes.   Each day brings its own temptations.

I will be honest:  I am still motivated more strongly by love of my family than a sense of mission or purpose this side of burying Dominic.

Perhaps that is sin.  I don’t know.

But for right now, that’s enough.

Every day, even almost three years later, I wake up and must choose to go on.

I’m not suicidal!

I’m willing to stick around.  But I am no longer afraid to die.

I can say, like Paul,  “To live is Christ, to die is gain”.

doesnt-get-better-gets-different

 

 

 

 

Exhausted

Exhausted

Worn out

Bone-tired

Ready to drop

Drained

Fatigued

War-weary.

I wasn’t created to carry this burden.   I cannot do it.

Jesus invites me to lay it down:

Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders—it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30 VOICE

yoke-of-oxen

 

 

 

Subtitles

My husband is the child of immigrants.  And even thirty years after coming to America, my in-laws preferred their native Italian to English.

italian-village

So when we would be in a crowded room, comments flying, I struggled to keep up with what was being said because I didn’t speak the same language.

As the years went by and our relationship deepened, I realized they had the same struggle when I would try to communicate complex truth in English.  It wasn’t their heart language and some things just didn’t translate well.

Sometimes feelings got hurt because what one of us thought we were saying was not what the other person heard.

Subtitles would have been useful.

The other day in an attempt to keep my unwell body in a chair, I pulled up Amazon and picked a movie.  It was in French with subtitles.

I thought, “I’ll try it.”

But as the movie went on, I realized that I was unable to give full attention to either the action of the movie or the subtitles that interpreted the dialogue.

It took way more effort than I was willing to commit to what was supposed to be a relaxing couple of hours.

So I turned it off.

Today someone in a bereaved parents group to which I belong asked if anyone else found holidays exhausting.

The comments were a resounding “yes”!

The more I thought about it the more I realized that a big part of what makes it so exhausting is a communication gap.

1538R-61348

I am not the same as I was before burying a child.  

My family is not the same.  

Nothing is the same.

Some of the “not the same” is the gap between my understanding of how I have changed and the lack of understanding by others about how I have changed.

Many friends, extended family members and acquaintances continue to relate to me as if I’m the “old” me. That creates tension and requires energy to deal with-I either have to overlook it, try to help them understand or figure out how to deal with it some other way.

We’re just not speaking the same language anymore.

Sometimes I think subtitles would be helpful.

But even then it would still be exhausting.   

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life

If you get up every morning and go to work-I applaud you!

Most of my days start with work, but I don’t have to go farther than my own property to discharge my duties.

But today I had to get going extra early for a doctor’s appointment with a specialist about 50 miles away.  So I rushed through my morning chores, double-checked I had everything I needed and left home by 7:10.

I had to park in a parking garage-no easy feat when you drive a full-size pickup and the spaces are designed for mid-size cars.  The low roof, confined space and limited light make me feel trapped and uncomfortable.

Every time I have to fill out health paperwork there is always a question or two that makes me think of Dominic.  I shake off the beginnings of tears and wait to be called back.

My blood pressure is higher than it usually is and I’m a bit heavier than last time I was there-both things that make me feel like a failure and add to the voice in my head that says, “You aren’t good enough.  You are doing something wrong or this wouldn’t have happened to you.”  

My disease is progressing and although my doctor is kind, and patient, and fully aware of the fact that I’ve buried a child,  she broaches once again a treatment option that has more risk but potentially greater efficacy.

I’m just not ready to take the leap.

So my anxiety mounts as I think of both alternatives:  Submitting myself to a new treatment that may have grave consequences or giving in to the inevitable limitations that rheumatoid arthritis is imposing on my life.

She graciously puts off the decision for another three months but I know I won’t be in any better position to make it then either.  I’m paralyzed now when I have to decide these kinds of things-torn between “doing what’s best” and “what difference will it make?”

Bloodwork means waiting in a area next to the infusion clinic and hematology departments and I am surrounded by people that are in dire straits. Once more, between the waiting and the thinking, I’m ready to be out of there.

When I get back to my truck, what had looked like a pretty good place to park has become a nightmare.  Another truck beside me and two parked opposite have closed the space I should have had to get out to the bare minimum.  And someone is waiting for my spot.  

Oh, joy!

I try.

I really try to figure out how to get too much vehicle out of too little space.

Finally, in tears, I step out of my truck (now in what I think is an impossible position) and raise my hands in the air-I give up!  You win!

The kind man that was waiting steps out of his car and guides me backward and forward (4 turns!) until I am free from the awful predicament.  I thank him and keep going.

Before Dominic left us this day would have seemed like a tiny blip on the radar of life.  It certainly wouldn’t have brought me to tears.  

But the energy required to simply get up and get going in the wake of losing him means that I have so much less to spend on anything else.

I don’t suffer from anxiety.

I’m not depressed.  

But there are many moments throughout the day when I am anxious or sorrowful.

One minute I’m fine.  And then a series of events, phone calls or memories pile one atop the other until they become a load I can no longer bear.

It feels like I am always behind, always short on resources, always close to tears.

And no matter how hard I try, I am unable to simply “get better”.  No matter how much I organize or plan or work at it,  I always end up frazzled and frustrated and feeling like a failure.  

I wish it wasn’t like this-this added burden in addition to the missing and the sorrow. Maybe it’s part of the missing and the sorrow.  I don’t know.  

But I’m ready for a day, a single day, when I feel just a little bit victorious..

Astonished. Again.

For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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

Read the rest of this post here:  Not as Strong as I Look

 

Bill of Rights for Grieving Mamas

One of our family’s inside jokes comes from a movie about the Civil War.  A young soldier questioned about why he’s fighting declares, “I’m fightin’ for my rights!”-except is sounds like he’s saying, “I’m fightin’ for my rats!”

So we often laugh back and forth when faced with combative situations by using that line.

You wouldn’t think that grieving would be one of them.  But it can be.

I’m kind of a touchy-feely person. One who will hug strangers, pat puppies and offer a hand whenever I see someone struggling.

So it has been a bit of a surprise to find out that some people really want me to keep my grief in the closet.  

They would rather I  hide my tears.  They have decided on an appropriate number of days, weeks, months for my grief to run its course and then it should be “over”.

Now, let me just say that I do not think I have the right to ruin someone else’s day.  

I make appropriate arrangements when asked to participate in special events.  If I can go and be certain I won’t draw attention away from the celebration, I do.  If I can’t, then I’m honest about it and find another way to contribute.

But I can’t spend my life in a bubble.

I’m inevitably going to be around others when a wave of grief hits me. Sometimes I will not be able to control my reaction.

And that’s OK…

So here’s what I believe to be my rights as a grieving mom (other grieving parents may disagree-and that’s o.k.):

mr rogers and feelings

I have a right to my feelings. I am open to someone who has demonstrated sincere compassion to help me work through them  or to share their concerns if they see me heading toward destructive expression of them.  But it is not up to someone else to validate my feelings about burying my son.

I have a right to draw boundaries.  So much of my energy is being sapped by working through grief that I just do not have the resources to deal with everyday drama.  I care deeply about the other people in my life and I will absolutely be there for them when they really need me.  But I can’t be a sounding board for every little thing.

I have a right to talk about my son.  He is still my child.  He is still part of my life and my family’s life.  Most mamas talk about their children all the time.  I talk about my living children and I will continue to talk about the child I miss.

I have a right to cry.  Tears make most folks a little uncomfortable.  I acknowledge that and believe me, I try to hold them back.  But when they fall-I won’t hide them as if it’s shameful.  I won’t draw attention to myself, but I won’t always slink away either.

memories tears

I have a right to laugh.  Humor still moves me. And a belly laugh is good medicine.  But don’t mistake a moment of laughter as a signal that I’m “better”.  I am healing, slowly, but I am not whole.

I have a right to NOT talk about how I feel.  Life still happens and every emotion I experience is not necessarily tied to missing my son.   I don’t always need to “talk about it”. Sometimes, like everyone, I just need time to process and get over something.

I have a right to celebrate or not celebrate, participate or not participate in holidays, birthdays, remembrance days or any other special day or occasion however I am able-even if it means changing long-standing traditions or routines.  I do my very best to live up to the expectations and needs of the people that are close to me.  I want to have birthday parties, exchange gifts, celebrate graduations and weddings and other major milestones.  But sometimes I might have to attack these gatherings in a slightly different way.  I’m not the same person I was before Dominic left us and I can’t always do things the way I used to.

I have a right to be heard.  I don’t expect nor do I want to be the center of every decision or every event.  But I have a right to express my opinion, I’m not invisible.  And no one knows what is best for me except ME.  It’s easiest if people just ask me what will be most helpful instead of assuming that I would or wouldn’t like this or that.

Navigating the death of a child is a treacherous journey.  I understand that those who have not travelled this path may not think about how hard it is and some of the little things that can make it easier or harder.

I am so thankful for the ones who try.

friends pick us up

 

 

 

 

 

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