Parenting After Loss: Giving Surviving Siblings Permission to Live

I wrote this post about things I’m learning almost two years ago.

A couple of the things I’m learning are:

There is no limit to the pain you may have to endure this side of heaven.

Lightning can strike twice in the same place, and fear of what you know by experience trumps fear of the unknown by miles.

I’ve buried one child, I do not want to bury another.

So one of the biggest struggles I face is how to parent my surviving adult children.  I do not want their lives circumscribed by my fears.

Are we ALL changed by Dominic’s death?  Absolutely!  But they are young, at the beginning of life and making choices about direction and life partners and what they want out of the years stretching before them. 

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I pray every day they will make those choices from a place of freedom and hope instead of a place of confinement and fear. 

Can something happen to any one of them?  Of course!  But it is no more likely today than it was three years ago when I didn’t think it could happen at all.

I will not let my mind and heart borrow trouble from tomorrow.  I will choose to focus on today and encourage them to do the same.

While Dominic was here-he LIVED.  

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I want his brothers and sister to be completely free to live too.

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Anxiety is Awful!

I’ve written before about anxiety and child loss here.  No matter the cause of death, the FACT of a child’s death seems to create the perfect conditions for a parent’s body and mind to experience anxiety, dis-ease, fear and often a sense of impending doom.

My world was rocked to its foundation the moment I heard the words, “He was killed in a motorcycle accident”.  

The worst thing I could imagine had come true.  

There was no protection from it happening again, no guarantee that THIS unbearable pain would be the ONLY unbearable pain I would have to carry.

I think my body chemistry was instantly transformed that morning to include rapid heartbeats, shallow breathing and a horrible creepy tension that climbs my spine and clenches its claws tightly at the base of my skull.

Before Dominic left us for Heaven I was not an anxious person.

No matter what happened, I generally took it in stride, looked for a solution and moved forward armed with an arsenal of choices to meet the problem head on.

Now, I can be pushed into a corner by an ordinary phone call that lasts too long.  I can feel trapped if a price fails to ring up properly and I have to wait to have it corrected by a head cashier.  I can become positively frantic when I reach in  my purse and can’t find my keys even though I know for a fact I put them there and if I look a bit harder I’ll find them.

Traffic makes my heart go pitter-patter.  The doorbell sends me flying to make sure it’s the UPS man and not another police officer to tell me heartbreaking news.

If I try to multi-task (which I rarely do) I am soon overwhelmed and have to sit down to catch my breath.

I only shop in stores where I’m familiar with the aisles and where products I need are shelved.

I check and re-check directions if I have to go to an unfamiliar address and leave with double the time needed to get there in case I get lost.  Making on-the-fly course corrections doesn’t happen.

I pull off and have to figure out where I am.

And heaven forbid the phone rings past midnight -I wake with a start and even a wrong number means I won’t sleep for the rest of the night.

This is not “worry”.  It’s not “borrowing trouble from tomorrow”.  It is not an indication that my faith is weak or I’m “caving in” to my feelings.

It’s an uncontrollable physiological response to various stimuli.

So please, please don’t judge me or other bereaved parents for making choices about where we go, when we go and how much we go-most of the time we are anticipating an anxious response and trying to beat it.  

We are doing the best we can.  

Honest.

courage doesn't always roar male liion

I Get It-I Really DO Get It.

I write a lot about what bereaved parents (me!) wish others knew or understood about child loss and this Valley we are walking.  And I am thankful for every person outside the child loss community who chooses to read and heed what I write.

But I want to take a minute to tell those of you who are not part of this awful “club” that I get it-I really do get itwhen you need to put distance between yourself and me or other people walking a broken road.

We all love to think that life is a never-ending ascent toward bigger, better and more enjoyable moments.

Our children are born and we think only of their future, not their future deaths. We plan for retirement never imagining that some dreadful disease may keep us from enjoying that nest egg we so carefully set aside.

So when my son died-or your friend’s daughter died-it was an affront to the way you want to think about how the world works.  It’s an unavoidable reminder that we are not in control, no matter how many plans we make.

Trust me, if I could, I’d run away from it too.  

I’d turn down the other aisle in the grocery store to avoid coming face-to-face with tears. I’d take me out of my own Facebook newsfeed so that the sad posts of recycled photos didn’t upset my morning coffee.  I’d change my pew or enter the sanctuary from another door to make sure I didn’t run into me and have to say something when I had no idea what to say.

I’d let days, weeks, months slip by between phone calls and then convince myself that really, I wasn’t ignoring my friend, I was “giving her space”.

I really, really do get it.

I am a reminder that no one is immune to tragedy.  I am a walking, talking advertisement for the unpredictability of life.  

My life is your worst nightmare.

And who wants to face that?

losing a child is unimagineable every persons worst nightmare

 

How Can I Trust My Child Is With Jesus?

There are many burdens bereaved parents bear in addition to the heaviness of living with child loss.

Some had unfinished business,

some were estranged,

some had harsh words

or no words at all before their child left them.

And some are oh, so afraid that the child that made a sincere profession of faith in Christ might not be in heaven because he or she was living outside the will of God when they died.

I can’t offer words to undo or soothe some of the other burdens, but I can offer hope from the Word of God to assure any parent afraid for the eternal salvation of their child that he or she is safely Home.

If your child made a genuine profession of faith in Christ, then no single impulsive decision or even a series of bad choices, can undo what God has done for him or her through the blood of Jesus.

If Satan is not strong enough to snatch us from God’s hand, our feeble human choices are certainly not strong enough!

Jesus declared those whom the Father had given Him could in no way be snatched from His hand:

28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

30 I and my Father are one.

John 10:28-30 KJV

The circumstances of a child’s death do not negate his or her profession of faith in the blood of Christ Jesus!

42 Then he [the repentent thief on the cross] said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

43 He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”

Luke 22: 42-43 MSG

I realize that various denominational traditions teach different things, but I am utterly convinced that it is God Himself Who calls, Who saves, Who keeps and Who is keeping at this moment our precious children who put their trust in Jesus:

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God;

Ephesians 2:8 AMP

I also rest satisfied that He Who began a good work in our children is faithful to complete it. If salvation depended on our good works, or our own faithfulness-ALL of us would be lost.

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We are hid in Christ. His righteousness (and HIS alone) is our righteousness.

For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:3 KJV

Our sins are flung as far as the east is from the west. They are hid behind God’s back-unviewable (have you ever tried to see something on the small of your back-without a mirror?):

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Dominic was not at the height of his Bible-toting, church-going, praise-song-singing days when he left us.  He was an adult student in law school, living in his own apartment and making his own choices.  He made some I didn’t like.  But that doesn’t change the FACT that he belonged (and STILL belongs)  to Jesus.

Your child who trusted Jesus is safe, dear parent.

He is in his really, truly Home.

One day there will be great joy when we are reunited. Until then, we rely on the promises of God in Christ to see us through.

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I pray for every parent reading that God overwhelms your hurting heart with His love, grace and mercy and assures you of His faithfulness.

And may He give you strength for each new day.

❤ Melanie

Unafraid

I’ve never been really big on fear.

I jumped from the high dive at three years old-that belly flop hurt but I survived and it fueled my adventurous spirit.

I rode horses other people didn’t like-was bucked off a time or two but no broken bones so that didn’t slow me down.

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My dad had an open cockpit biplane and we flew aerobatics over Colorado Springs-fanny pack parachute strapped to my butt “just in case”-upside down and round and round. We never needed to jump and landed safely every time.

great lakes biplane

Never been afraid of speaking in public.

Never been afraid of strangers.

Never been afraid of heights.

UNTIL.

Until I had children and then I was afraid of nearly EVERYTHING for them.

I didn’t want any harm to befall these tiny humans carrying my heart outside my body.  I wanted to protect them, to cushion them, to wrap them in a bubble so that nothing bad ever happened to them.

As they grew, I learned to let go- a little at a time.  I learned you can’t prevent the scrapes and bruises and heartaches and disappointments of life.  And I learned that a little “harm” made them stronger.

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I forgot most of my fears and was again unafraid.

UNTIL Dominic was killed.

And all the old fears came rushing back.  I wanted to lock my surviving children in a room and slip food under the door.  I HAD to keep them safe.

Only I can’t.  It is not possible for me to keep. them. safe.

All I could possibly do is make them afraid.  I could make them afraid of choosing their hearts’ desires in an attempt to prevent more pain for mine.

I won’t do that.

I will not allow part of Dominic’s legacy to be that our family lives afraid.

NO.

I choose to release my children to make the best choices they can and to live boldly and unafraid.

 

Refusing Fear, Embracing Love

In my grief and sorrow it is tempting to dig a moat, draw up the bridge to my heart and wait out life like I am under seige.

But that would be wasting this pain and I won’t do that.

I won’t dishonor Dominic and dishonor Jesus by refusing to love.

fear is the opposite of love brene brown

Just a few days after Dominic ran ahead to heaven,  my youngest son wrote this:

“If you are surrounded by life you will be surrounded by death, if you feel love you will also feel pain. But never let the fear of death or pain rob you of the joy of LIFE and LOVE.”

Fear is a thief.

It sneaks in and can rule my heart before I even know it.

I will not bar the door to love, but I will barricade it against fear.

I refuse to let fear win.

fear does not prevent death it prevents life

Dealing With Anxious Thoughts

I no longer have to imagine the worst thing that could happen in the life of a mother-I know exactly how it feels. 

And if I allow my heart to ponder that too often or too long, it consumes me.

So I am learning to take those anxious thoughts captive, learning to make them live in only a small corner of my mind instead of taking it over completely.

It takes effort and discipline, but it’s possible.  

I don’t have to live the rest of my days a quivering mess- afraid of every sunrise, every phone call, every mile my family travels:

  • I confront my fear with facts:  The absolute truth is that it is no more likely I will lose a child today than it was the day I lost Dominic.  I’m not good at determining odds-if I toss a coin ten times and it lands on “heads”-I’m convinced that next time it HAS to be “tails”.  But that’s just not true.  EVERY time the coin is tossed, it has exactly a 50/50 chance of landing on “heads” or “tails” regardless of what happened last time.  That’s not how it FEELS, but that’s how it IS.

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  • I refuse to feed my fear:  I don’t linger over news stories that play up danger or magnify the possibility of catching rare diseases.  Do these things happen?  ABSOLUTELY!  But are they likely to happen to me or someone I love, probably not.  I will not fuel the fire of fear that threatens to rage through my mind.
  • I take reasonable precautions:  My family wears seatbelts.  We take our vitamins and go to the doctor when we need to.  We eat right and exercise.  We don’t walk across streets without looking both ways.  These were all things we did before Dominic’s accident and we continue to do them now.  Not one of them would have made a diference that night but they help me feel better.

 

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  • I limit my exposure to uncertainty:  If I’m concerned about someone, I call or text.  It’s that simple.  I don’t have to live for hours wondering if they are OK.  I’m careful not to infringe on my adult children’s lives by a never-ending series of contacts, but they understand my heart.  We try to be mindful of letting each other know we arrive safely to our destination.
  • I exercise control in other areas of my life:  Anxiety is a beast that grows stronger the more out of control I feel.  I cannot keep my family absolutely safe-it’s not in my power to do so. BUT, I can control some aspects of life.  So I do.  Even cleaning out a messy junk drawer helps bolster my sense of control.  Small, easy to complete projects feed the part of my brain that says, “You can do this!”

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  • I limit caffeine and other stimulants:  Increased heart rate, rapid breathing and sweaty palms are signs of anxiety.  Caffeine can produce these effects even when I’m not anxious. If my body is feeling this way, my mind is quick to jump on board.  

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  • I practice distraction:  There are times when I find myself feeling anxious despite my best efforts.  When that happens, I am learning to distract myself.  I find something to touch, smell, hear or taste that can help me regain composure.  I count backwards from ten or twenty.  I hum a song or recite a Bible verse.  I add numbers in my head or do multiplication tables.
  • I live in the present:  I have no idea what tomorrow holds.  If I allow my heart to dwell on what might happen, I will be useless for today.  So while I make marks on the calendar for appointments, I wake each morning determined to live right now.

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Because, really, that’s all any of us has.