Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

We want to enjoy the family that gathers, but their presence makes the empty chair more obvious.

It is so hard to find a way to trudge through the tinsel when what you really want to do is climb into bed and wake up when it’s all over.

There are some practical ways family and friends can help grieving parents during the holidays:

  1. Don’t resist or criticize arrangements a bereaved parent makes to help him or her get through this season.  If they are brave enough to broach the subject, receive their suggestions with grace and encourage them with love.  Do your best to accommodate the request.
  2. If the bereaved parent doesn’t approach you–consider thoughtfully, gracefully approaching him or her about what might make the holidays more bearable.  But don’t expect a well-laid plan-I didn’t get a “how-to” book when I buried my child…this is new to me and very, very painful.  I am doing the best I can to keep my head above the waves and I cannot be expected to captain the boat through these turbulant waters.
  3. Don’t be surprised if a bereaved parent doesn’t want to exchange gifts (or at least, not receive gifts).  No one can rewind time or restore my family circle to wholeness and I just can’t think of anything else that I want or need.
  4. Don’t assume that the bereaved parent should be relieved of all meal duties around the holiday.  For some of us, doing the routine things like baking and cooking are healing.  For others, there just isn’t energy for anything other than the most fundamental daily tasks. ASK if they want to contribute.
  5. Don’t corner surviving children for a private update on their parent’s state of mind.  My children are grieving too.  When you expect them to give an update on me you diminish their pain and put them in a difficult position.  If you want to know, ask me.
  6. If there are young children in the family, it might be helpful to offer to take them to some of the parties/gatherings/church services that their parent may not be up to attending. Ask, but don’t be upset if they say “no”–it might still be too traumatic for either the child or the parent to be separated from one another.

I know that life goes on, the calendar pages keep turning and I can’t stop time in its tracks.  I greet each day with as much faith and courage as I can muster. This season requires a little more-and I will need help to make it through.

 

We are Not Home Yet

“Are we there yet?” * “I’m tired.” * “I’m hungry!” * “I need to go to the bathroom!!” 

When I was young, my family took many cross-country trips from Alabama to Arizona and back again.

My dad would hand me the map and a small calculator (one of the first-with only a few buttons and no fancy functions!) and tell me to add up the miles to our next stopping place.  It required focused concentration and careful calculation, but I was rewarded with an accurate assessment of where we were and how much farther we had to go.  Then I could count the mile-markers and measure our progress.

I had a sense of where I was going and how much longer it would take to get there.

I don’t want to be the whiny kid in the backseat, but my grief journey has me crying daily, “Am I there yet?!”

I am confident of where I am going but there’s

no map,

no mile markers and

no real way to measure my progress.

I can’t calculate how long I have to wait to see my son again and I can’t foresee what twists and turns this road may take.  I grow tired and impatient and uncomfortable.

I know each day brings me closer to the moment when my family will be reunited and whole.  Sunrise to sunrise is twenty-four hours less that I have to wait until eternity swallows my pain and longing.  Every revolution of the earth moves me toward the finish line of victory over death.

God has not ordained that I know when this journey will end, so I concentrate my focus on truth and lean into the promises of Scripture:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for

and assurance about what we do not see.

This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV

Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song: We Are Not Home Yet.

It helps me remember that my life is a journey, not a destination.

My true home is heaven and there all things will be redeemed and restored.

The Wilderness of Grief

I was fifty when Dominic died. I had lived long enough to experience first-hand, and through others, the impact of loss on life and love.

Studying for my psychology degree exposed me to the stages of grief and the typical, observed behavior and emotions that a person experiences when faced with the death of a loved one. So even in the midst of hearing the most terrible news of my life, I thought I knew a little about what to expect.

But there are secrets that no one tells you.

Feelings that lie in wait to ambush you.  Overwhelming changes alter the way you see, hear, experience the world and think.

Grief turns the landscape of your life into a wilderness that is suddenly unfamiliar and often threatening.  The landmarks you depended on for navigation from one day to the next are swept away in a flood and you stand, bewildered in the midst of this strange place wondering how you got here and what you must do to escape.

There is no escape.

I can’t take a shortcut through this altered world.  I can’t close my eyes, click my heels and say, “There’s no place like home” to be transported back to BEFORE THE ACCIDENT. 

It feels like I live in a place where many speak a foreign language of petty grievances, first world problems and longing for bigger, better things.  I struggle to remain connected but find that I just can’t relate anymore.

Talking on the phone for more than ten minutes makes me feel trapped and anxious even when I wish I could listen to the voice on the other end forever.

I used to be able to make myself at home in any group and start conversations with strangers in a grocery line.  Now I feel isolated and insulated and it is hard to reach out.

I take quiet delight in the moments when I see or hear my surviving children laugh, when there is a small shaft of light in the shadows that define our days.

I try to forge new paths in this scary place so that my feet won’t stumble and my heart won’t fail.  I can only lean harder on the One Who made me and trust that following Him will lead me home.

“The Lord God is my strength: and he will make my feet like the feet of harts: and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.”

Habakkuk 3:19

Walking The Balance Beam

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.

According to one sports writer, “The balance beam is often regarded as the most difficult event in women’s gymnastics at any level of competition. At only four inches wide and four feet off the ground, there’s barely enough space for a person’s foot to fit on the beam let alone enough room to flip and dance.”

But an average competitive routine lasts only 30 to 90 seconds.

I will have to walk this narrow way the rest of my life.

Despair lies in wait on my left.  One misstep and I’m lost.  Down on the ground, hurting and hopeless.  Doubt, guilt, anger and grief threaten to drag me into a pit so deep there’s no way out.

Delusion calls from the right.

Singing a lullaby to my wounded heart-he’s not really gone.  “Can’t you feel him in the wind?  See him in the clouds?” It would be so easy to just step off the rational and faithful path and embrace some fluffy facsimile of biblical truth.

The solid beam is my faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That what He said is true.

That what He promises will come to pass.

That even though I cannot see proof of life after death, it exists and Dominic is experiencing it.

That, like David said when his baby died, “He cannot come to me, but I can go to him.”

It takes every fiber of my being to focus my will and to direct my attention to the Truth.

Many nights I fall asleep reciting Scripture.  Many mornings I wake before the sun and remind myself that even in the dark, God reigns.

So when you see me and I look tired-I am.

But I wait in hope for the LORD…

   We wait in hope for the LORD;  He is our help and our shield.
 In Him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in His holy name.
 May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22 NIV