When You Feel Like You Can’t Breathe: Setting Living Children Free

A couple weeks ago I walked away from my son’s house, after kissing him goodbye and prayed under my breath that it won’t be the last time I see his bright eyes and lively smile.

Because when you’ve mistakenly waved a cheery “see you later” to your child, ignorant that it’s the LAST time, your heart never takes these moments for granted again.

I drink in the laugh lines around his 30 year old eyes, wondering if mine had laugh lines at that young age as well.

james 30 birthday

I make a mental record of the timbre of his voice, the set of his shoulders, the way he laughs.

I cannot get enough of him- like a parched woman in the desert-trying to quench a thirst that simply cannot be filled.

He’s off to an adventure and I refuse to squelch his enthusiasm.

james at pikes peak

I’ve buried one son and part of my heart begs me to set up barricades and safe zones around the rest of my children.

But the truth is, I can’t.  There is no way to guarantee safety in this world.  And if I try to circumscribe their lives, all I will gain is a false sense of control and a strained relationship.

So I open my hand.  

Open my heart.  

Take a deep breath.

Pray for grace and mercy.

And let go.  

james and me yellow shirt 2015

Help! My Family Won’t Talk About My Missing Child.

 

At first everyone talked about him.

It’s what people do just after a person leaves this world and leaves behind only memories.

It comes natural before the unnatural fact of child loss settles in and begins to make everyone uncomfortable.

But at some point after the funeral and way before the tears dried up, people stopped feeling easy mentioning his name.

And when I mentioned him, they weren’t sure whether they should just let those words fall with a “thud!” between us or pick up the conversational ball and run with it.

It’s a bit easier to understand when friends do it.

But so, so many bereaved parents lament the fact that even family members stop saying their missing child’s name aloud.

They stop sharing memories and stop acknowledging the place he or she holds in a parent’s heart regardless of their permanent address.

It hurts.  A LOT. 

I realized after the first six months or so that most people (including my family) didn’t know HOW to talk about my missing son.

So I began modeling it for them: I spoke of memories in past tense as I would for anyone, I spoke of character traits in present tense– because he is still all that plus some in Heaven-and I refused to ignore the elephant in the room.

grief is often the elephant in the room

I told them it was impossible to make me sadder by mentioning Dominic but it was very possible to make my burden heavier by NOT mentioning him.  They were not reminding me that he was gone, I breathe his absence in and out like oxygen all day long.  

miss-you-every-day

 

I know it seems unfair that we must simultaneously learn by (awful and heartbreaking!) experience and also educate those around us, but it is what it is.

If I’m honest, though, before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I didn’t really know how to talk about a young person who died.  It’s natural to reminisce about Grandmama’s favorite recipe or the old-fashioned way she did her hair.  It’s positively Unnatural to speak in past tense about a young, vibrant human being that you never expected to outlive.

There are always going to be some folks-even family-who cannot or will not speak about my child in Heaven.  

I can’t force them to do it.  

But I can encourage the ones who do by telling them what a beautiful gift it is to hear his name on their lips.  

 

mention them teddy bear

Speaking Truth

In the South, we tend to pussyfoot around hard truths because most of us grew up with the admonition, “Now just be nice!”

And while that makes for charming dinner table conversation, it makes for lousy long-term relationships.

Because we all know the longer you live with, work with and love another body, the more things that should be said but aren’t add up.

Pretty soon the pile is so big it obscures the love or fun or shared interests that should be holding hearts together and instead they drift apart.

I haven’t been all that good at following the southern tradition of code words and cute phrases that mask true intent. But I used to be guilty of it from time to time.

These past years of heartache and hardship have pretty much stripped all the veneer that was left off my tongue.

I doubt you will find a soul that would call me a silver-tongued devil.  They’re more likely to call me a brash something else.

But I have important things to say and I don’t want to waste time sugar-coating them.  I don’t want the meat of my message hidden inside a puff pastry of silly words.  I believe truth should be easy to swallow but not necessarily tasty.

Often the most efficacious medicine leaves a nasty aftertaste.

So I’m here to tell you:  don’t drown your important relationships in unsaid words, unshared feelings, unacknowledged wounds.  

All that does is guarantee distance grows between your hearts.  

If you let the distance become too vast, or the pile of unsaid truth get too high, you might just find you can’t reach that far or that high to reconnect.

It takes a bit of brave to say what’s important and uncomfortable. 

But it’s worth it.  

And it’s really the only way to authentic and lasting relationships.  

business-authenticity

Speak Up, They Can’t Read Your Mind

I’ll admit it.  

I tend to be an emotional stuffer. 

It never seemed like it was worth the drama to expose my feelings to others.  It rarely resulted in changed behavior and often resulted in confrontation, retribution or worse.

So I learned to swallow tears, stuff pain and slink off into another room and lick my wounds.  

But that’s hardly healthy.  

And it cannot be sustained when a heart shatters into a million pieces.

Because trying to hide THAT pain is impossible.

It slips out eventually-usually in a way that is awful and untimely and creates more hurt and more drama than if I had simply owned up to it in the first place.  

It may be frustrating, not to mention exhausting, that you have to take the time to help others understand what you need. But this is part of living with grief. It’s part of the healing, coping process. Plus, if you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for more awkward, painful moments. Therefore, communicating with your comforters — be it through a spoken conversation, a letter, or an email — is wise. You won’t have a great deal of energy to reach out to others, but find a way that works for you. Let your comforters know:

* what helps
* what doesn’t help
* the truth about how you are feeling
* how thankful you are for their friendship.”

~Samuel J. Hodges and Kathy Leonard, Grieving With Hope

It IS frustrating AND exhausting.  

But I am learning (slowly, very slowly!) that it is oh, so much better!

Instead of energy spent on being wounded and trying to hide it, I’m learning to speak up, own the wounds and suggest ways to prevent them in the future.  

dont trade authenticity for approval

I’ll be honest, not everyone around me appreciates it.  I am sometimes met with exactly what I hate:  confrontation, opposition, accusations of selfishness and no more understanding than I had before I risked transparency.

But at least I’ve unburdened myself of what I could.  I’ve given them tools to use (if they want to) in helping my heart heal.  

There is so little I can control in this journey.

This is one place I can give it a shot.

what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful

Bereaved Parents Month Post: What The Bereaved Need From Friends and Family During the Holidays

I’m taking the opportunity during July to re-post some articles that have been popular and helpful in the past.  

One of the most trying seasons for grieving parents extends from November through the first week of January. 

The holidays are hard for so many people, but especially for parents trying to navigate these family  focused holidays without the presence of a child that they love.

I know it’s still several months away, but once school starts it seems the weeks roll past faster and faster until suddenly there’s no time to plan and the day is upon us.

I highly recommend speaking to family and friends NOW.  Make plans NOW.  When folks have plenty of time to make adjustments, it is much more likely they will accommodate a grieving heart’s need for change.  

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

I know that every year I seem to need something different.  I know that’s confusing and may be frustrating.  But I’m working this out as I go.  I didn’t get a “how to” manual when I buried my son.  It’s new for me every year too.

So I’m trying to make it easier on all of us.  

 

Read the rest here:  Holidays and Grief: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Stuck or Unstuck in Grief-Who Gets To Decide?

“Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?  How do you take into account the circumstances of a death, the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, trauma surrounding the event or any of a dozen other things that influence how long and how deeply one grieves a loss?

Read the rest here:  Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

Little Ways Grief Changes Things

I accidentally dialed my son’s number the other night.  

All he heard amidst the noise of the baseball game he was attending was, “I’m sorry” which immediately put him in “oh no!” mode.  

A couple words later and he understood that what I was sorry for was interrupting him, not another tragedy that required a heart-wrenching, life-changing long distance phone call.

But that’s how it is now.  

The sheriff’s deputy came to my door and I had to make the awful phone calls.  

But so many of Dominic’s friends first suspected something was wrong when they couldn’t reach him by phone on that Saturday after he left us.  

I cannot abide the suspense of not being able to know for sure one of my precious family members is OK.

We carry our phones everywhere, silent to other calls when necessary but never to our “favorites” because we will not be unreachable.

If one of us calls another at an unexpected time, we begin with, “Nothing’s wrong!”

We have to or else hearts race, temples pound and it will be hours before we can come down from a state of heightened anxiety and near panic.  

We touch base every morning and most evenings. 

Like hands stretched out in the dark to comfort one another.

Just be be sure.