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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To The Friends I Haven’t Met Yet

I’m not blind to the danger social media poses to in-person friendship.

For lots of people with busy lives and messy houses it’s a no brainer to choose online companionship over face-to-face lunches, brunches or book clubs.

If I can curate my online presence to reflect only my brightest, funniest and most enviable moments (all from the comfort of home in my pajamas!), why not?

But social media isn’t all bad.

In fact, it can be very, very GOOD for lots of people.

It’s been a godsend for my heart.

I live in a rural area and didn’t have WiFi until late in 2011 and there’s no cell phone reception in the little valley where my home is situated. So before then I wasn’t on social media very much. In fact, I used to get irritated with folks who ONLY posted important things on Facebook (remember this was years ago!) because I often missed them.

By the time Dominic left for Heaven, I was in the habit of checking in at least once a day. That changed to several times a day when I discovered online groups for bereaved parents.

All of a sudden I was not alone in my grief, my experience, my questions, my tears, my tiny victories nor my setbacks.

It’s no cause for celebration that there are so many of us. But it IS cause for celebration that we’ve found one another.

So here’s to all the friends I haven’t met yet from another town, state or country.

You know who you are.

You speak kindness, grace and wisdom over my heart and into my life. You listen when I need to “say” something aloud no one who hasn’t walked our path can understand. You don’t care how many times I talk about my missing son or post his picture. You share encouraging memes, quotes, songs and Scripture verses.

When you wonder if you are making a difference sitting in your living room or at your desk or kitchen table and sharing on Facebook, don’t you believe it.

I am so, so thankful for each of you. ❤

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 Post: How Am I Doing? That’s A Hard Question To Answer.

I promise I’m not being evasive.

But when you ask me how I’m doing I never know exactly what to say.

Do I give the conventional, anticipated answer so we can each get on with our day or do I give you the answer that reflects the state of my heart right now?

Either way is risky.

question

When I go along with convention and answer, “fine”, I let others off the hook.  I assure them the card they wrote or the meal they brought or the flowers they sent have staying power to convince my heart they care.

Depending on my relationship with them, sometimes it’s all (or more than) I expected.  So we’re good.

But sometimes I thought they’d stick around, check in more often or offer some kind of ongoing support.  Then I battle the temptation to reveal the actual state of my heart as a kind of retribution for being abandoned.

When I bravely offer an honest answer, I may catch someone by surprise, or make them supremely uncomfortable, or put them on the defensive as they scramble for some kind of response.

As a society we are simply unequipped to deal with the ongoing impact grief and loss has on a heart.  We want all things to fit into the medical model of “wound-treatment-healing”. 

But they don’t.  

So, so many sad, heartbreaking, life-changing blows are never healed this side of Heaven. 

Child loss is one of them.  

So some days (or moments) I’m doing pretty well.

Some days (or weeks) I’m not well at all.

How am I?

That’s a hard question to answer.  ❤

how are you fine words in letters

 

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

 

Priceless

Circumstances have made me thoughtful lately.  

My grandson’s premature birth, my daughter’s wedding and our personal season of unwelcome milestones have reminded me that life is short.  

And then a Facebook friend shared this meme:  

a rich life has nothing to do with money

My heart cried, “Yes!”

It’s so, so true.  

What we will value most in our vulnerable moments and in our last moments won’t be anything we bought at a store (or online).  

It will be relationships. 

The people we love and who love us are the true treasure of a life well-lived.  

They are priceless.  

life approved by others award