Map of Sorrow

I take great consolation in the fact that C.S. Lewis, a man who defended the Christian faith in an age of faithless reason was just as stricken by grief as I am.  

All the research, all the thinking, all the gathering of truth he had hoarded in his heart for decades was no defense against unbearable loss and sorrow banging down the door.

He clung to Christ.  So do I.  

But he refused to deny his feelings.  I will not deny mine.  

Sorrow is no longer ALL I feel.  And I am very thankful for that.

But this road still stretches before me, bends and twists and rises and falls. 

It is, as Lewis says, “a process” and it will last a lifetime.

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process … There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape … Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.
~C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Flying Lessons

My dad is a pilot and flight instructor.  

He’s flown everything from a single engine private plane to a fighter jet in all kinds of weather-good and bad.

When I was a little girl, he’d take me with him sometimes while he gave a flight lesson.  If he was teaching instrument flying, the student would wear a hood that restricted his vision to just the plane’s instrument panel.

No external visual cues allowed.

student pilot instrument hood

The test came when the student’s senses told him something different than the instruments were telling him-would he give in to what he thought was true but couldn’t validate OR would he rely on the trusty instruments that had proven faithful?

Some students just could not let go of their feelings and never did gain their instrument flight rating.

airplane-instrument-training

Some learned (even when it went against everything they were feeling) to lean on the absolutely reliable instruments to guide them safely to their destination.

These years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven feel like instrument flying.

clouds

I’m in the clouds.

The landmarks I’ve used for navigation all my life are obscured and sometimes I can’t even tell if I’m upside down or right side up. I don’t know if I’m going fast enough to stay in the air or if I’m about to stall.  I’m tempted to use my feelings to determine true north and to decide on a course of action.

But I know if I do, I’m likely to crash.

If I ignore the trustworthy and unchangeable truth of God’s Word, I will find myself headed exactly opposite of where I want to go.

If I refuse to listen to good counsel-people I can trust and who are in a position to see my blind spots-then I cannot correct my path.

When a student decided not to pay attention to the instruments, my dad was right there to take over and get them safely back on the ground.  

But for this flight I’m on my own.  If I decide to trust my untrustworthy feelings, there’s no one to rescue me.  

I have to make a choice.  

I have to learn to acknowledge but not trust the feelings that would send me spiraling downward and reach for the truth that can help me steady my flight.

I have got to plot my course based on absolute, reliable Truth.  

The pilots that learn to fly in heavy clouds often still feel frightened.  They sometimes still feel confused and disoriented.

But they have learned that it’s possible to feel those things and not act on them. 

I am learning that too. 

hold-the-truth

OOPS!! How in the World Did I End up HERE?

My front yard is full of juvenile squirrels.  They love to chase one another round and round-playing some version of “king of the hill”.

I’m used to hearing their chatter and seeing them jump from branch to branch, tree to tree.

But yesterday I saw something I’d never seen before-two young squirrels were clinging desperately to the phone lines that stretch between two power line poles.  They were twisting and turning, grasping for a foothold and completely flabbergasted to find themselves in such a precarious position.

squirrel_on_a_wire

I looked to see how in the world they might have ended up there.  Sure enough, there is a crepe myrtle tree with branches that just graze the phone lines.

I’m pretty sure the silly young things were chasing each other and didn’t realize that they had jumped from the safety of a tree to the danger of the phone line.

As I was watching them I thought about how I can find myself in a very similar situation.

Grief is not a single emotion-it’s a whole suitcase of them!  I can’t help feeling them.  In fact, I NEED to feel them if I’m going to do the work grief requires.

heal and acknowledge

But if I allow myself to be led by my emotions, I can quickly be drawn away from the safety of truth and find myself perched precariously on the high wire of my feelings.

Once there, my sole focus becomes maintaining my balance and I lose sight of where I want to go.

In my scramble to keep my footing, I can sacrifice relationships.

I can take offense when none was intended.

I give offense because I’m angry and wounded myself.

I can allow sorrow to cloud my vision so that I can’t see the real beauty that still remains.

I need to remain aware of where my emotions are leading me so that I don’t end up somewhere I don’t want to be.

highwire image

I’m not nearly as nimble as a squirrel.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stressed: Why Doesn’t My Head Just Explode?

No days are easy when you are this side of child loss.

There is the constant burden of sorrow and pain bearing down on my heart and mind 24/7.  Then there are the little (and not so little!) everyday bumps along the road of life.

But sometimes it’s not a bump, but a mountain that looms large.  Or it may be a sinkhole that opens up and swallows days and weeks before you even realize how much time has passed since you last drew a calm breath.

These past weeks have been like that.

From the night my mother was lifeflighted to the hospital until today, we spent a week and a half in hospital plus these past few days at home trying to get her stable, better and transitioned to a new regimen that will hopefully keep her reasonably well.

While every medical professional gave great care, the majority of responsibility is falling on my dad and myself.  And it’s a huge adjustment for everyone.  No more in and out to the field on the tractor.  No more quick trips into town-at 2 litres of oxygen per hour it will take one portable tank just for the round trip.

Doctor appointments need to be carefully scheduled and routed to minimize time away from home where there is an unlimited supply of oxygen.

I am learning that elder care is a huge challenge-one I thought I knew (in principle, though not by experience).

I was dreadfully wrong.

Just like child loss, until a single call or event takes your world from “I’m in control” to “I have lost all control”, it’s impossible to understand.

There is so much to keep track of, to manage, to watch for, and to do that I honestly feel like my head is about to pop off.

Add random phone calls, doctor appointments, home health visits and (oh yes!) Hurricane Irma-well, you get the picture.

So here’s to all my fellow sandwich generation peers.

And here’s a special shout-out to the ones whose broken hearts already limp along because they are missing a child they love and are now caring for ailing parents as well.

May we all reach out to the only One Who can strengthen us for this journey.

May we speak courage to one another.  

May we extend grace to ourselves because no matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise, we are human.

shame for being human

 

 

Anger or Sadness? Or Both?

We live in an angry society.

Social media is full of rants about this and that.  Television blares raised voices shouting over one another in what passes for news coverage.  T-shirts are emblazoned with one-liners intended to provoke others.

We tolerate and even embrace anger as a legitimate emotion.

Yet we rarely make room for mourning.  We hide our tears.  We shame those who don’t hide theirs as “weak” and “soft” and “cowardly” or worse.

But many times what we think is anger, is really sadness.

anger authentic

I’ve discovered that sometimes in this Valley of the Shadow of Death,  deep sorrow masquerades as anger.  And I’ve become sensitive to that truth in other people as well.

Sadness over loss of any kind can be spewed out as anger:

Sorrow over declining health.

Despair over lost opportunities with loved ones.

Heartache that life has not turned out the way one had hoped.

The problem with anger is that it pushes people away.  It creates an impenetrable circle that isolates a heart just when it needs to be loved, cared for and comforted.

angry-man-pointing-finger

Very few are brave enough to battle through another’s angry front to find the sorrow hidden underneath.

So I challenge myself to be more authentic in expressing what I actually feel and not dig a moat around my heart by acting angry when I’m really devastated by grief.

Because I don’t want to push people away, I want them to come close.  

I need them to take my hand and remind me that I’m not alone. 

band-aid-and-heart

 

 

 

 

Feel and Deal to Heal

If I touch a hot stove my hand jerks away almost before my mind registers the searing pain.  It’s reflex.  Our bodies were designed to react to and protect us from things that cause pain.

Run away.  Don’t go back.  Set up barricades and warning signs so that others can be protected.

Most of the time, this reaction serves us well.

But sometimes those reflexes keep us from healing.

Anyone who’s had major surgery knows that when the nurses come in the next morning saying, “We’re going to get you out of bed today!”, the last thing you want to do is swing your legs over and stand up.  It HURTS!

We want to avoid what hurts, not embrace it.

So it’s no surprise that when we suffer deep emotional wounds, our first response is to try to run away or bury them or ignore them.  The last thing we want to do is face them.

But if I am to heal, I have to face them.  I have to take hold of each place where the dagger of grief and sorrow and regret and anger has pierced my heart and examine it closely.  I have to decide what to do with it, how to integrate it into my life after loss.

Grief is work!  That is one of the reasons grievers need solitude as well as companionship on this journey.  And that is why grief can’t be hurried along.  It takes a great deal of time to do the work grief requires.

If instead of facing our pain, we try to run away or distract ourselves or numb ourselves with alcohol, food or drugs, we only prolong the process.  Grief will not be ignored forever.

healing doesnt mean damage never existed

We must FEEL what we need to feel.

Then we must DEAL with those feelings-it might mean seeking a professional counselor or a trusted friend.  Online or in-person grief support groups are a wonderful resource. Journaling can help too.  But we have got to acknowledge and work through these feelings.

And then we can begin to HEAL  Hearts that have embraced and made some sense of grief can begin to beat again.  They can begin to love again and feel joy again.  They can learn to carry both sorrow and happiness-to remember and honor the missing child while also honoring and loving family and friends still here.

It’s not a “once and done” exercise.

I have repeated these steps over and over in the nearly three and a half years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  New feelings show up at the door of my heart and I have to choose to feel them, to search for what they mean and why they are here and then allow them to be woven into the fabric of who I am NOW-this side of child loss.

It takes courage and stamina and determination, but it is the only way forward.  

owning-our-story-and-loving-ourselves-through-the-process

 

 

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