Companioning The Bereaved

I’ve learned so much in this journey.

I’ve had to unlearn some things too.

One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is that the medical model of “identify, treat, cure” is not applicable to grieving hearts.

Grief is not a disease. It’s not an abnormality. It doesn’t need to be treated and cured so that it “goes away”.

It’s the perfectly normal and appropriate response to loss.

A more helpful model is compassionate companionship.

What grievers need is faithful friends and family who choose to come alongside and refuse to be frightened away when the process seems long, tortuous and challenging. We need others to be present, to truly listen and to bear witness to our wounds.

Recently I found this list from Dr. Alan Wolfelt, founder of the Center for Loss (http://www.centerforloss.com) and I love it!

It’s an elegant synopsis of what compassionate companionship looks like in practice:

  1. Being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.
  2. Going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
  3. Honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.
  4. Listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.
  5. Bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.
  6. Walking alongside; it is not about leading.
  7. Discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling up every moment with words.
  8. Being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.
  9. Respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.
  10. Learning from others; it is not about teaching them.
  11. Compassionate curiosity; it is not about expertise.

~Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Eleven Tenets of Companioning the Bereaved

At one time or another each of us need someone to be present, to truly listen and to bear witness to our wounds.

When your world is profoundly dark, an outstretched hand is often the only way a heart can hold onto hope. 

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Ask. Don’t Assume.

I’ll confess right here on the world wide web that I tend to go along to get along.

It’s a terrible and odd twist that the son who always encouraged me to speak up for myself has accomplished his goal by his absence.

Since Dominic left for Heaven I’m learning to ask questions I’d never dare ask before.

When someone does something or doesn’t do something, instead of assuming motives or assigning blame, I ask them why. It doesn’t always end well, but it’s worth the risk.

Most of the time I find the person has anticipated (often mistakenly) that his or her behavior, choices or words are helpful. Truly, family and friends are not usually out to hurt my heart.

Now, I admit in the beginning I didn’t care whether it was accidental or purposeful. I was already so burdened that any additional stress or strain was more than I could bear. I wanted people to put themselves in my shoes.

Truth is, they can’t.

All the times I IMAGINED what it might feel like to have a child run ahead to Heaven didn’t even come close to how it actually felt. All the scripts that played in my head when someone was late checking in, coming home or assuring me of safe arrival when traveling can’t hold a candle to the REALITY of a son never ever coming home again.

It’s not fair (but what about child loss IS fair?) that I have to educate others as I’m learning myself.

It’s simply reality.

I liken it to being forced to lead in a dance I don’t know to music I can’t stand to hear.

So I ask.

And I’m often surprised by the answers.

In utter innocence and genuine sympathy some friends and family make decisions they honestly think are good ones.

None of us has a road map for this journey-neither we who travel the road nor those who walk alongside us. It’s uncharted territory.

I would rather err on the side of love and grace then build walls between my heart and the ones I have left here on earth.

Sure it hurts.

But most things this side of child loss do.

I refuse to sacrifice relationship on the altar of grief.

Bereaved Parents Month: Self-Care For Families

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

Read the rest here:  Grief is a Family Affair

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Grace and Space

It didn’t take long after Dominic’s leaving for life to ramp up and obligations to pour in. We had two graduations and a wedding within two months of his funeral.

Then there were thank-you notes to write, dishes to return and every day chores necessary to manage a home and family.

No escaping what must be done.

It took me a little while to realize that if I was going to survive this lifelong journey I had to make some changes in how and when I responded to requests to do something, be somewhere or participate in outside events.   Because no matter how worthy the request, there was only so much of me to go around and I was forced to spend nearly all my energy and time and effort on figuring out how this great wound was impacting me and my family.

I cannot overemphasize how much strength and energy is needed to do the work grief requires.

At first, turning down a request or asking someone to reschedule was relatively easy-the loss was fresh in their minds and they were gracious and understanding.  As the weeks and months and now YEARS have passed, it is harder…

Read the rest here:  Grace and Space

Child Loss: Friends and Family Can Anchor a Heart

Child loss rips through a life like a tornado-wild, unpredictable, viciously destructive.

It drops from the sky like a meteorite-no warning, no defense, just crushing weight.

It wrecks havoc in absolutely every corner of a bereaved parents’ heart and life.

And there is no safe space to escape from nor insurance policy to cover THAT damage. 

When Dominic was killed, his sudden death instantly untethered me from the world as I knew it.  I needed friends and family to anchor my heart in love and support so I didn’t float away.  ❤

loss makes people feel out of control

 

Thirty-Five Years and Counting

Some people say they’d love to know what life has around the corner.

Not me.

At least not much past tomorrow morning.

If my husband and I had known thirty-five years ago what our lives would be like along the way, we may very well have turned tail and run in the other direction!

hector and me 29 anniversary

There have been many, many good things in those years.

We have four beautiful children whom we love so much.  Two are married and their spouses are a blessing to our family.

And this year our first grandchild made his dramatic appearance at only twenty-eight weeks!  We are oh, so thankful he’s doing well.

It’s a brand new feeling to watch your son with his.

ryker and jm june 19

There have been a fair number of not-so-good things too. 

Job layoffs, illness, the death of Hector’s parents one right after the other and the stress and strain of life’s details when it seemed we couldn’t get a break.

But nothing compares to burying Dominic.  

How does a heart learn to live with a giant piece missing?

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We have, though. 

We’ve muddled through.

The commitment we made all those years ago has stood firm.

It’s battered, crumpled, muddied and torn, but it remains the guiding promise of our lives together.

traditional wedding vows

Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

I want to be everything my living children need me to be.  

I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.  

I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.  

But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.  

Sometimes the happy moment so closely resembles a shared memory that includes Dominic, my heart takes my head in directions I wish it wouldn’t go.  Sometimes it’s a long awaited once-in-a-lifetime occasion and Dom’s absence is a giant, gaping hole everywhere I look.

It’s really hard to be stuck at the crossroad of being happy for a child still here while mourning and missing the child that’s gone.

brandon and fiona wedding her laughing not screenshotI’ve had to do that many, many times in the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve found a couple of things that help.  

I put something in my pocket or wear a piece of jewelry that is a token of my love for Dominic. 

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It helps me feel as if he’s represented even if no one else knows about it.  Then I lean in and take hold of the celebration as best as I can. When I feel overwhelmed, I touch my little token and/or escape to a quiet corner or bathroom for a minute or two and collect myself.

I also try to do something called “pre-grieving”. 

coffee and journal morning

I allow myself time early in the morning of an event to be alone and cry if I need to.  If the tears won’t come, I listen to music that helps my heart reach that place of release.  I journal my feelings.  I walk through the day and admit where it might be especially challenging.  I think through how I can deal with that and make a plan.

It makes a difference.  

So much has been stolen from my surviving children. 

I don’t want them robbed of their mama too.  

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