Thank You For Four Years of Faithful Listening!

Four years ago today I shared my first post in this space.

It was a timid foray into the wider world just a year and a half after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

I was truly frightened that once I began sharing my intimate thoughts, good (and not-so-good) experiences and things I was learning in this Valley of the Shadow of Death I would either (1) find out no one really cared and/or (2) offend friends and family.

But what motivated me to overcome that fear was a sense that for all the information out there on grief in general, I couldn’t find nearly enough first-person experience written in bite-sized chunks on child loss in particular.

After Dom ran ahead, it was difficult for me to sit down and read a whole book. I needed bits I could read on a single computer screen.

I also needed someone to be upfront and honest about what it meant to continue to cling to faith even when it was hard and even when it meant acknowledging doubts and living with unanswered questions.

It’s difficult to believe now with the plethora of popular books (both secular and religious) on “open broken” but four and five years ago, there weren’t many around.

So I decided I’d just say what I had to say and let it fall on the ears that might need to hear it regardless of who didn’t like it or chose to ignore it.

And here we are four years later.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep writing-probably as long as I feel like I have something to say, people are listening and my fingers can still tap-tap-tap the keyboard.

For now, writing is what I do.

Even when life interrupts almost everything else I will find a few moments to jot down thoughts and hit “publish”. I know some posts are much thinner than others-maybe just a meme or two and an encouraging word. But I want to show up in case THIS morning someone’s having an especially rotten one.

I want you to know that there IS life after child loss.

A very different life.

A harder life.

A life you didn’t want and wouldn’t ever choose, but life nonetheless.

And I appreciate every. single. heart. who joins me here and cheers me (and others!) along.

No Shame In Being Human

Everyone struggles.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Everyone wishes, at one time or another, that he or she had done better, spoken more softly or loved more fiercely.

But we are human and can’t get it right all the time.

So if you, like me, have had a less-than-stellar recent record dealing with those you love, those you meet and those you pass on the street or in your car, accept this truth:

You are absolutely, positively NOT perfect.

And that’s OK.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over.

If apologies are in order, make them.

If hugs can set things straight, hug away.

And if only time can soften a heart then be prepared to wait.

It’s Been Years-What’s Wrong With You?

If you think that time makes a difference to a mama’s heart that’s missing a child who ran ahead to Heaven without her, you don’t know as much as you think you know.

Time does not heal all wounds-especially the kind that shatter a heart into a million pieces.

It takes time for the wound to scar over, but it doesn’t undo the damage.

So if you are wondering why your coworker still takes the day off on his child’s birthday or the anniversary of her child’s homegoing, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Years disappear when those milestones loom large.

It’s just as painful today as it was on THAT day when a bereaved parent has to face an unavoidable reminder that his or her child is gone, gone, gone.

I’m not diminishing anyone’s loss when I say this but child loss is unique.

If we lose a spouse, we cannot replace that person, but we can enjoy the same type of relationship with another one.

When we lose a parent, we cannot replace that individual or that relationship, but we all know age eventually makes a claim on every life. We anticipate (even if subconsciously) that younger folks will outlive the older ones.

A parent’s heart is not equipped to outlive their child.

And yet, some of us do.

“IT’S so WRONG, so profoundly wrong, for a child to die before its parents. It’s hard enough to bury our parents. But that we expect. Our parents belong to our past, our children belong to our future. We do not visualize our future without them. How can I bury my son, my future, one of the next in line? He was meant to bury me!”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

So if the bereaved parents in your life need extra space, extra grace, extra accommodation on those days when the loss is unavoidable don’t be surprised.

What SHOULD astonish folks is that we are able to function as well as we do on all the other days of the year without additional help.

We get up.

We go on.

That’s the real surprise.

World Suicide Prevention Day

I’m always torn between sharing about suicide awareness and just offering a listening ear to survivors of suicide.

On the one hand, I don’t want a single person who may be shouting warning signals to end up completing suicide because no one listened.

On the other, I want to protect bereaved parents and siblings from any additional guilt they may feel because they “missed” such signals.

But since suicide is at epidemic proportions in our country-especially among young people and veterans-I’m going to try to navigate the middle ground.

To anyone whose loved one left this life by suicide let me say this: You are not responsible! Even if in hindsight you feel like you missed cues or didn’t notice tell-tale signs, in the end it was their own action that led to death.

I do not believe suicide is selfish.

I believe suicide results from pain so unbearable a heart simply thinks there is no other way to end it. It’s not a conscious act as such, it’s a reflexive response to intense pain.

I also know that mental illness-often untreated because it is undiagnosed-wrecks havoc with the logical, reasoning part of a brain.

To those who may be contemplating suicide (something I know many, many bereaved parents think about) let me say this: If you are considering it, reach out.

You are a unique creation and cannot be replaced.

There are resources available and people not only willing, but LONGING, to help you hold onto hope.

As you fall deeper and deeper into the pit of despair, it’s easy to lose sight of the truth that darkness is not all that exists. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s nearly impossible of your own volition to will yourself out of the funk.

This is where suicide prevention has a role to play.

If someone seems “off”, don’t ignore it, dismiss it or excuse yourself from asking hard questions (even at the risk of being rebuffed or worse).

Often a single person extending a hand and listening ear at just the right moment grants space for a hurting heart to reconsider suicide as the only way out of pain. If they won’t respond in spite of your best efforts, enlist allies.

And walk gently among your fellow humans!

You may never know when your smile, opened door, random encouraging word or knowing glance is the difference between a stranger going home to end it all and going home and making a phone call to get help.

Suicide is tragic.

Be alert.

Be a friend.

Compassion is a choice.

Be the one who cares, calls and comforts.

Christmas In July: What The Bereaved Need From Family and Friends During the Holidays

What began as a cute marketing ploy to encourage folks to spend some of those December dollars mid-year is now a full blown movement.

From the Hallmark channel to Little Debbie’s snack cakes, retailers and media outlets are promoting Christmas like it’s nearly here.

For some of us, that’s welcome relief from sweltering days. But for many bereaved parents, it’s an unwelcome reminder that faster than we would like, we’ll be right back in the thick of one of the most difficult seasons of the year.

So I’m taking the opportunity during July to re-post this article that has 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.  

https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/03/grief-and-holidayswhat-the-bereaved-need-from-friends-and-family/

Repost: Should I DO Something? Yes! Absolutely.

It’s possible to stand frozen at the corner of good intentions and helpful action.

I’ve done it dozens of times.

And every time I’ve allowed myself to swallow “but I don’t know what to do” and done nothing I’ve regretted it.

Every. Single. Time.

So I’m here to tell you that when you get that urge, feel that itch, hear that still, small voice that says, “DO something“, then do it.

You may already have a good idea of what it is you need to do, but in case you don’t know exactly how to make a difference in the life of a heart hanging on by a thread, here are some things to get you started:

Read the rest here:

Should I DO Something? Yes. Absolutely.

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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