What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.  

In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”

It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group.  After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.

But, oh, when I did! What relief!  What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!

me too sharing the path

I have learned so much from these precious people.  

Here’s a few of the nuggets of wisdom I carry like treasure in my heart:  

Everyone has a story.  No one comes to tragedy a blank slate.  They have a life that informs how or if they are able to cope with this new and terrible burden.  Not everyone has the same resources I do-emotional, spiritual or otherwise.  Don’t put expectations on someone based on my own background.  Be gracious-always.  

Everyone deserves to be heard.  Some folks really only have one or two things that they insist on saying over and over and over again.  That’s OK.  If they are saying them, it’s because they need to be heard.  Lots of folks do not have a safe space to speak their heart.  But it’s only in speaking aloud the things inside that we can begin to deal with them.

Everyone (or almost everyone) is worried that they aren’t doing this “right”.  Society brings so much pressure to bear on the grieving.  “Get better”, “Get over it”, “Move on”.  And when we can’t, we think there is something dreadfully wrong with us.  But there isn’t.  Grief is hard and takes time no matter what the source.  But it is harder and takes a lifetime when it’s your child.  Out of order death is devastating.  “Normal” is anything that keeps a body going and a mind engaged in reality without being destructive to oneself or others.

Everyone can be nicer than they think they can.  Here’s the deal:  I THINK a lot of things.  I don’t have to SAY (or write!) them.  I’ll be honest, sometimes my first response to what someone shares is not very nice.  But when I take a breath and consider what might help a heart instead of hurt one, I can usually find a way to speak truth but also courage.  Snark is never helpful.  If I can’t say anything nice, then I just scroll on by.

Everyone has something to give.  I’ve learned that even the most broken, the most unlovely, the least well-spoken persons have something to offer.  It may take a little dusting off to find the beauty underneath, but my heart is stretched when I take time and put forth effort to truly listen to what’s being said instead of just ignoring it because of how it’s said.

Everyone deserves grace.  Because I am the recipient of grace, it is mine to give-without fear of running out-to every other heart I meet.  Sometimes I forget this.  I want to apply a different measure to others than I want applied to me.  But grace is the oil that greases human relationships.  Freely given and freely received, it provides a safe space for hearts to experience healing.

Everyone is standing on level ground when we gather at the foot of the cross.  There’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom.  We are all servants.  I am responsible to my Master for walking in love and doing the good works He has prepared beforehand for me to do.  My works are not your works and your works are not my works.  I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on others always trying to see if I(or they!) “measure up”.  The standard is our Shepherd and only grace and mercy can help me strive for that goal.

Everyone needs courage.  When Jesus gave His charge to the disciples He told them it was “better for you that I go”What??? How could that be better?  But it WAS.  Because when Jesus returned to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit as the personal, indwelt connection to Himself.  He knew they would need courage to make it through. The Spirit calls courage to our hearts.  And we are given the privilege of calling courage to one another.  The bravest among us quivers sometimes.  You’d be surprised how often one word is the difference between letting go and holding on.

There are dozens more things I could share.

I have met some of the kindest, wisest and most grace-filled people this side of child loss.

They have been the purest example of the Body of Christ I’ve ever known.  

I am thankful for what they are teaching me.

heart hands and sunset

Repost: The Authority of Compassion

I don’t like pain.

I don’t enjoy suffering.  

But deep pain and suffering have left a lasting impression on my soul.  Experiencing the loss of a child has enlarged my heart and sharpened my senses to the pain and suffering around me.

Choosing transparency in pain is hard and vulnerability is frightening.

But when I let others in, they see that I am just like them. I struggle, I cry out for mercy, I need God’s grace, mercy and strength to carry on.

And that lends authority to my invitation to meet Jesus.

The Authority of Compassion

Defiant Faith

Defiant faith scorns circumstances, obstacles, and impossibilities. This brand of faith challenges the fiends of hell to hurl their fiery darts, and when diabolical schemes seem to triumph, faith exclaims to God, ‘My times are in your hands’ (Psalm 31:15). It is that tenacious, unyielding trust in God that leads troubled hearts into immortal hopes. One’s sorrowful condition becomes the platform upon which the strength, wisdom, and beauty of God is revealed to a darkened world. Therein lies the consolation and power of the Almighty God.

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

Just think-when our hearts hang onto hope in this Valley of the Shadow of Death, we are taking back territory from the enemy of our souls.

We are shedding light and spreading salt.

What a powerful testimony to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. 

For every child of God defeats this evil world by trusting Christ to give the victory. And the ones who win this battle against the world are the ones who believe that Jesus is the Son Of God.
~1 John 5:4-5

learned to kiss the waves

 

No, It’s Not Fair

I don’t know about you but I absolutely hated the word “fair” when I was raising four little humans.

What seemed like a good idea when training them to share toys was soon turned into a weapon whereby they would shout, “But Mama!  That’s not FAIR!!!”

Someone was going to get the last piece of cake or pizza or a tiny bit larger slice of pie.  Someone needed shoes this payday but not everyone needed shoes.  My daughter required certain items for her dance class, the boys didn’t need a thing.

To kids, “fair” meant even-exactly, precisely, even division of time, talent, money and attention.

Its-Not-Fair-608x419

But if I tried to turn the tables and suggest that it was one child’s turn to empty the bathroom garbage because another child did it last time, suddenly “fair” wasn’t such a great idea.

Because even young sinful hearts learn that making everything exactly even isn’t really what we want.

What we want is for the fates (and God! and Mama!) to favor US.

We want the bigger piece, we want to be excused from duty when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable.  We want, above all, not to suffer-even if the suffering is really not very painful.

calvin and hobbes bigger piece of the pie

As hard as it was to explain that life is. not. fair. to my young children, it has been harder still to explain it to my own heart in the wake of burying Dominic.

Seriously. 

What IS fair? 

Is it fair that my son shouldn’t die when the laws of physics kicked in as he left the road in a curve?

What about when those same laws mean another son lives?

Is it fair that my children were born in a land not decimated by war or famine-every one born by C-section in clean hospitals with adequate staffing and appropriate facilities?

No, life isn’t fair.

We live in a world marred by sin.  It’s a broken world where sometimes people make foolish choices, sinful choices or simply reckless choices.

It’s a world in which disease ravages bodies-young and old-and hearts stop.

I will mourn what I’ve lost.  I will weep for what I will never have. 

But I will not whine about things not being fair. 

I had nearly 24 years with Dominic.  Not as many as I expected nor as many as I wanted.  His life ended too soon from my perspective regardless of whatever Bible verse someone uses to explain it differently.

He was a gift.  And though he is now gone from my sight, I will see him again. 

Until then, I will work hard at being thankful and not resentful.  One attitude brings life and the other only death.

I’ve had enough death. 

I choose life. 

thankful for what is given rather than what is withheld

We Are ALL Bruised Reeds from Henri Nouwen

I find great comfort in Henri Nouwen’s words. 

He was a Catholic priest who struggled with depression at times and ended his years living and serving at L’Arche-a community of able and disabled persons living together.

He wrote extensively and honestly and openly about his own struggles.  He was full of compassion for fellow travelers. 

He was honest about loose ends. 

I like that.

I’m sure I would have liked him too. 

Not Breaking the Bruised Reeds

Some of us tend to do away with things that are slightly damaged. Instead of repairing them we say: “Well, I don’t have time to fix it, I might as well throw it in the garbage can and buy a new one.” Often we also treat people this way. We say: “Well, he has a problem with drinking; well, she is quite depressed; well, they have mismanaged their business…we’d better not take the risk of working with them.” When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds.

We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.

– Henri J. M. Nouwen

If you would like to receive daily devotionals from his writings you can click here and sign up:  henrinouwen.org

bruised reed

How To Pray For Your Brokenhearted Friend

We’ve all been there-someone we love receives a terminal diagnosis, someone we care about loses a family member, her husband walks away from their marriage of twenty years, his addicted child hasn’t made contact in months.

The list is endless.

This life is hard and broken hearts abound.

What to do?

I’ve written extensively about the many practical ways a friend or family member can reach out and walk beside a wounded heart.

Choosing to offer compassionate companionship is the greatest gift you can give.

But there is another way you can help.  You can carry the one you love to the Throne of Grace and intercede on his or her behalf with the One Who can be there when you just can’t.

I’ve learned the hard way that many situations are not fixable.  They are only bearable.  And because we so often pray for blessings and miracles, when faced with this reality, words tend to fail us.

But there are prayers to pray for the brokenhearted.

Pray for God’s Presence. 

Father God, alone and broken is too much for anyone to bear.  I know you are right beside my friend, but give her assurance of Your Presence.  Let this wounded heart feel You very near her.  When she despairs that You are not listening, bring to mind Your Word and flood her with Your comfort.

Pray for the presence of God’s people. 

Lord, You don’t need people to do Your work, but you have ordained that the work of Your Body will be done by the hands of men.  Stir the hearts of those that follow Jesus to show up and bring practical help to this broken heart.  Give divine guidance to the people You want to be there so that they do things, bring things and say things that bless and do not harm.  May this abundant outpouring of love, grace and mercy give strength to a struggling heart.

Pray for grace.

Father, we so often think of grace as what You give us when we receive salvation.  But grace is so much more than that-it is the oil that lubricates the gears of life.  It’s what gives us the space we need to process offense, to overlook offense and to avoid offense.  My friend is wounded and oh, so vulnerable.  Overwhelm his heart with Your grace so that the unthinking and even unkind words or actions of others will not hurt him more.  Suffuse every single relationship that is being strained and stretched by this hard season with grace so that it remains supple and does not break. Fill the hearts of those who come to minister with grace to endure his silence or their rebuffed attempts to help.  Keep relationships alive and intact, even in this difficult time.

Pray for mercy.

Oh, Lord!  How well I know that one tragedy or unbearable hardship does not preclude another on its heels!  I beg mercy for this family!  Pour mercy out on them and in them and prevent any schemes of the evil one to succeed.  They are so, so weak and such easy targets!  Let Your mercy surround and protect them.

Pray for strength.

Father, “weak” can’t begin to describe the crumbling of a spirit under the crushing load of grief.  If You do not raise the head of my friend, she will not be able to raise it herself.  If you do not infuse her body with Your strength, she will not be able to make it through this valley.  You have promised that if we wait on You-expectantly and hopefully and trustingly-that You will give us strength as eagles.  We will run and not be weary, we will walk and not faint  You are the Everlasting God.  You are the Source of Strength.  Fill my friend with Your strength as You have promised.

Pray for faith. 

Lord, there is a space where faith and experience conflict.  Losing a child creates a gulf between what a heart wants to believe and has believed and the unbearable pain that fills it right now  Help my friend’s heart hold onto the hem of Your garment.  Give him the will and conviction to say, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief!”  Bring those who love You alongside to bear witness to this crisis of faith without correcting or shaming.  Send Your Holy Spirit in power to flood this hurting heart with an assurance of Your Presence and power.

Pray for courage. 

Father God, one of Your great champions, C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.”  He was right.  Grief feels like the most profound fear a heart can experience.  The entire world has shifted.  The bottom has fallen out.  It seems there is no end to the pain and suffering that a person may have to endure.  And it is scary-so, so scary.  Let my friend join the Psalmist in declaring, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46: 1,2 NIV) You are the unchanging constant Truth in a world where everything else seems untrustworthy.  

Pray for perseverance.

Lord, it’s easy to start well but something else again to finish well.  When a heart realizes that this missing, this sorrow and this pain is going to be with it for all the days of life on earth, that’s a whole other burden to bear.  Defeat seems imminent.  How can someone possibly carry this for years-perhaps decades?  Give my friend the commitment and strength to persevere.  Help her wake each day and decide to keep on keeping on.  Infuse her tired body, mind and spirit with the power You have promised to give to all who love you:  the power that raised Jesus from the grave (Ephesians 1:19,20).

Pray for love.

Father God, a broken heart is open and ready for filling.  And it will be filled with something.  It will be filled with love or it will be filled with bitterness.  Overwhelm my friend with Your grace, mercy and love so that all the spaces are filled to overflowing with You and there is no room for bitterness.  Bind the work of the enemy so that no scheme formed against him can stand.  Give him a heart of flesh-that even hurting, even broken-he can give and receive love.  Because love lives forever.

Amen.

hope holds a breaking heart together

Repost: They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I remember the first couple times I ventured out in public after Dominic left us and the flurry of activity surrounding his funeral was over.

I felt naked, afraid and oh, so vulnerable.  

The tiniest misplaced word or random glance could undo me and I burst into tears.  

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know