A bereaved mom just a month into this journey shared that she feels bad for not being able to handle grief better at work.
She wants to be professional, do her job well and shield unsuspecting coworkers and clients from her tears.
Her question was (slightly expanded):
Does anyone have practical suggestions for how to handle the unpredictable, overwhelming, undeniable waves of grief that come out of nowhere and demand attention regardless of how convenient it might be at that moment?
Here’s my reply (also expanded):
Don’t waste what limited energy you have in these early, especially hard days on beating yourself up! There’s no such thing as a “standard for grieving” even though there may be someone here or there that tries to impose one. Don’t expect too much from yourself.
In the early days, it took every ounce of energy I had to just make it through each day I couldn’t waste any blaming myself for what I might have “gotten wrong”.
Try to find a quiet spot (if possible) or at least a focal point in the room or rooms you work in most often so you can rest your eyes and focus your breathing/thoughts when the inconvenient waves sweep over you.
Often just making a plan is all a heart needs to regain control. As you shift your mental and physical focus, your body will tend to follow.
The little 5-4-3-2-1 centering exercise for anxiety works for nearly any strong emotion.
I wore a necklace or carried a memento in my pocket every day for years. I still do that when I know I’m going into a stressful place. I could reach in (or up), take hold of that physical object and it helped me breathe, slow my heart rate and lasso my emotional response.
Finally, if a tear falls, let it.
Don’t apologize or make it bigger (you can briefly mention you’ve lost a child-if appropriate and the person doesn’t know), wipe it off (or not) and go on.
I’ve found most people follow my lead.
I am so very sorry you even have to figure this out.
It’s not something any parent should have to do.
However you manage is really OK.
I promise. ❤
***If YOU have hints, tips, wisdom or encouragement for other bereaved parents who work AND grieve, please comment! It is such a blessing to hear that another heart has fought this particular battle and is reaching out. ***
It gets harder and harder to be honest the longer I walk this Valley.
Because it’s natural that those for whom Dom’s death was a moment in time, a short season of mourning, an unfortunate incident they sometimes look back on with sadness and regret but don’t live with daily move on.
The further we get in time from the actual moment of Dominic’s sudden departure, the larger the gap between my heart and theirs.
I understand that.
But that chasm is more and more difficult for me to bridge.
It requires energy and effort I don’t always have to reach out and reach across and try to help them understand me.
So sometimes I just don’t.
There is always going to be a blank space where Dominic SHOULD be, but isn’t.
There are always going to be places that aren’t colored in because that part of the canvas belongs to HIM.
There is always, always, always going to be pain when I line up for family photos, set the table for family dinners, go on family trips, wrap presents, send cards, list names on documents because HE IS NO LONGER HERE.
Others think the water fills in where the stone sank down.
But my mama heart knows exactly where those ripples ought to be.
So I quietly remember, quietly mourn, quietly mark that special spot-smiling on the outside.
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.
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.
I think we often interpret Old Testament Bible verses in terms of New Testament reality.
Sometimes that’s warranted because the verses foreshadow the fullness of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection.
But sometimes we miss out on the deeper meaning of what God was saying through His prophets.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” quoted as a general blessing/admonition/encouragement at the beginning of a worship service or just the start of an ordinary day.
I don’t think that’s technically a misappropriation of the sentiment, but I do think it falls far short of what the Psalmist was trying to convey.
The Temple stood on a hill above Jerusalem and those last steps for the pilgrims who traveled faithfully three times a year to celebrate the appointed festivals were hard. Many had walked miles and miles and were just plain tired.
So they sang songs (Psalms) to encourage their hearts as they plodded forward.
If you have a Bible with notes you’ll see them marked as “Songs of Ascent” because that was exactly what they were.
In addition to the expense, time, effort and commitment it took to make it to the Temple, pilgrims were expected to offer a sacrifice. Some could bring their own and some had to purchase a lamb or ram or other sacrificial animal from those offered by vendors just outside the inner courts.
It could be easy to resent the cost of coming.
It would be absolutely understandable to get just a bit disgruntled making those last few steps to plunk down a sacrifice to a God they couldn’t see.
So the Psalmist says, “This is the DAY(the appointed feast, the reminder of covenant, the renewal of promise) the Lord (Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and you) has made (ordained, appointed, set aside). Let us rejoice (revel in the fact that He has chosen us of all people, that He is faithful, that we can come and worship) in it.”
God doesn’t need my lamb or goat or calf.
The feasts weren’t designed to jog His memory regarding my relationship with Him, they were designed to help ME remember that I am creature and He is Creator.
And I need that reminder most when things are hard, when I am tired and when I may have forgotten that worship is a privilege.
Some days are uphill all the way.
I’ve had a few of those lately.
And while this verse isn’t really about ordinary days, it helps my heart as much on those as it does on the special ones. ❤
Everyone knows about your wrinkles, your less-than-perfect figure and your lopsided smile.
So refusing to stand still for a picture ( unless you feel you “look your best”) when someone begs you to join in is not really effective in curating your photographic legacy for generations to come.
What will happen instead is that those who long to have photographic evidence of your sense of humor, your sense of style, your silly antics and serious moments will instead have a giant hole in the family album.
I just finished a week-long adventure that included two dogs, four cats, five adults and one infant crammed into a house that hasn’t seen that much action in a decade.
My son’s family had to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Dorian (which, thankfully, didn’t do near the damage to their area as anticipated!) and came north to my parents’ place. I drove south to meet them.
It was an opportunity to make pictures we will treasure for years to come even if many of them aren’t even near “perfect”.
My mom (on oxygen and in her nightshirt), my dad (sometimes sweaty from outdoor work), me (absolutely NOT dressing up or wearing makeup) and the baby had fun snapping candid and not-so-candid photos.
I’m not sure if many or any of them will ever make it to the boxes we used to use for Kodak moments since our phones are our photo storage units, but I know we will look back on them fondly and enjoy reliving the moments when we gathered round the TV wondering if or when Dorian might make its way up the coast of Florida.
I think I’ll print some out for my mama whose memory is failing her but whose smile shone bright when holding her great-grandson.
So go ahead, take that picture!
You never know when it might be all you’ve got left of someone you love.