A Wish List For Bereaved Parents

I remember when my wish list could be filled from the Sears Roebuck Toy Catalog.

Sure I couldn’t have EVERYTHING but I was pretty well guaranteed to find at least one or two of my coveted items in our living room or under the tree on Christmas morning.

Now the things I wish for are not so easy to come by.

This list is adapted from a friend’s Facebook post (with permission) and a list published by Children’s Hospital of Colorado.

BEREAVED PARENT’S WISH LIST:

1. I wish my child hadn’t died. I wish I had my child back.

Read the rest here: Bereaved Parent’s Wish List

Until Then-Stories of Loss and Hope

I was asked awhile back to be part of a project shepherded by fellow parents-in-loss, Laura and Gary House (https://ourheartsarehome.org/).

They wanted to gather and publish stories from other child loss survivors in hopes of encouraging hearts and strengthening the faith of parents facing the unimaginable.

I don’t mind saying that in spite of all I’ve written in this space for the past seven (!) years, it was challenging to distill my thoughts about that night, the days that followed and my own faith journey since into a single chapter.

But I, and a dozen other parents, did just that.

In our own words we tell our stories. We share our struggles and our triumphs. We write honestly about how our faith was challenged and how it carried us through.

Every chapter was written by a parent who has a child (or children) in Heaven. Several chapters were written by dearly loved and greatly admired friends.

One chapter is mine in which I share Dominic’s story.

It was a long process but I’m happy to report that the book is now available on Amazon!

Eleven different chapters full of heartache, hope and help written BY bereaved parents FOR bereaved parents (and those who love them).

Until Then: Stories of Loss and Hope would be a blessing to any bereaved parent, to friends and family of bereaved parents (to help them understand the journey) and also to ministry leaders who will, at one time or another, be in a position to shepherd and counsel bereaved parents.

This is a labor of love.

All proceeds above production costs go to ministry to bereaved parents, not the authors.

Consider purchasing a copy or two for yourself or as a gift. ❤

Grieving in My Dreams

I first shared this years ago-a few months after my mother joined Dominic in Heaven.

There had been difficult dreams after Dom left but it had been a long while since one had interrupted my sleep…and then they began anew.

Night after night I woke in the dark with disturbing images lingering at the edge of consciousness.

They receded once again within about a year.

Now they are back.

I think that whenever anything particularly stressful or frightening or sad or just plain hard presses in, the grief I’ve learned to hide so well is squeezed out.

Lately I’ve been having unsettling dreams.

Even when I can’t recall the exact sequence of events, they all have a similar theme: Someone I love is in peril and I can’t save them or something I hold dear is lost and I can’t find it.

And that awful feeling of helplessness follows me when I open my eyes.

It doesn’t take a PhD to interpret these dreams.

Grief is leaking out in my sleep.

Read the rest here: Unsettling Dreams: Grieving In My Sleep

The Power of Servanthood

Some people are natural servants.

Not the kind in Downtown Abbey but the kind who see something that needs doing and just do it.

They open doors, return shopping carts, wash dishes, pick up trash and bend down or stretch high to help children or senior citizens reach what otherwise would be unreachable.

Some of us aren’t naturals but we can learn.

Because when we open our eyes to those around us and choose to be helpful we make a change to our hearts and theirs. We build bridges of grace and kindness that help to connect individuals and communities.

When a person feels seen, heard and cared for, they are much more likely to drop the drawbridge to their heart.

It’s no good saying, “Well, he didn’t ask for help” or “She didn’t let me know she was struggling”.

If we are paying as much attention to our friends and family as we are to social media memes and funny TikTok videos, we can’t miss the signs of desperation and hopelessness.

If we take time to ask important questions there’s no way we won’t hear sadness or loneliness in the reply.

So let’s stop acting like doing good is something only a few select individuals can or should do. It’s a myth that bringing meals and checking in on those who are no longer able to make it to our fellowships or church services or bingo halls is a special skill.

Compassion isn’t a calling or a gift or a virtue.

Compassion is something we choose to practice.

And for those of us who call Christ “Lord” it is a command.

The Power of Sharing-Your Story May Be Someone Else’s Survival Guide

Hey-I get it.

Who wants to air the good, the bad and the ugly for everyone else to see?

When I began writing here I decided to share what I was learning, what I was wondering, what I was feeling and what I was struggling with in hopes it might help another heart.

Read the rest here: Your Story-Someone Else’s Survival Guide

A Rough Week

Y’all! This morning marks seven days of exhausting emotional and physical effort that I absolutely, positively did not anticipate.

This time last week I was looking forward to being at home where I could finish up (way ahead, mind you!) prepping for the soon arrival of my grandjoys for a long visit.

I had nearly finished some major cleaning out and rearranging and figured I’d fiddle around the edges and do the exciting and much more rewarding tasks of gathering craft materials, organizing delicious snack recipes and rounding up fun bath time toys when I got an unexpected phone call.

My very dear friend (more like a sister) fell in her kitchen and broke her back (not her spinal cord, thank the Lord!).

Suddenly everything else was on hold, emergency protocol prevailed and I was swept up in a whirlwind of ambulance transports, emergency rooms and coordinating communication among friends and family members who couldn’t join us in the tiny cubicle while we waited for a doctor to diagnose her condition and determine her treatment.

[By the way, if you haven’t been in an emergency room lately can I just tell you they are overwhelmed, overrun and understaffed. Through no fault of their own, nurses and doctors are working with fewer resources and greater demands than ever before. So (as my Emergency RN daughter says), “Don’t do stupid things!”.]

It took multiple imaging scans and consults to determine that my friend would have to be admitted to the hospital at least for a few days but there were no available rooms. So the waiting continued.

By early Thursday morning she had a room and we began a new round of consultations and physical therapy to figure out the best way forward.

While she was there, I was back and forth.

Driving through rain and city traffic (not my favorite) an hour there and an hour back from my rural home was a real challenge. Getting up and dragging my behind out of bed while my autoimmune disease was acting up was another. Carrying bags and my friend’s prosthetic leg two and a half blocks downtown with my wonky and very painful wrist was yet one more. And can I admit I absolutely HATE face masks???

Let’s just say, it’s been an adventure.

I’m tired.

I’m once again reminded of the fact that I have far less reserve than I had before Dominic died.

Even though I’m stronger and better able to carry the load of grief and handle his absence I still experience a constant and unrelenting level of stress that means I simply do not have the ability to absorb extra demands on my emotions or physical strength like I used to.

And I am also reminded that people think because it’s been eight and a half years that I’m “back to normal”. They see me smiling, laughing, walking in the world like everyone else and assume it’s no big deal to take on additional responsibility.

But it is.

It is still very MUCH a big deal.

I can’t Spend the Same Energy Twice.

I’m not sharing to garner sympathy. I’m sharing because I hope that if you have also had a rough week you won’t feel so alone.

It’s OK to admit we don’t have the same energy or resources we once had.

It’s OK to ask for help.

It’s OK to not be OK.

Griefwork: Is It OK To Put Some Friendships on “Hold”?

A few years ago I spent the weekend with a small group of bereaved moms.

For our last session together, I solicited anonymous questions from the group that I promised to try to answer and discuss further.

There were lots of good ones but one of the most poignant was this:

Is it OK to put some friendships on hold because the interaction is no longer encouraging to me? I leave lunches together sad because their lives are going fine and I’m in such pain.

A Grieving Mom

My heart went out to this mama for so many reasons!

First, even in her grief she was concerned about doing the right thing, about being a good friend and about rightly interpreting the situation. She knew her friend wasn’t actively harming her. In fact, the friend was most likely trying hard to come alongside and encourage her heart.

But it still hurt.

And so she wanted to know if she was obligated to “grin and bear it” or if she could graciously and authentically set a boundary that meant a little (or a lot!) of distance between this friend and herself-hopefully for only a season.

This is one of the hard truths and difficult conundrums that inform the lives of many grievers. It certainly was part of mine for a long time.

I craved compassionate companionship from concerned friends and family while, at the exact same moment, longed for solitude and seclusion from “ordinary” life.

How in the world could the world just go on? How in Heaven’s name did the entire universe not take note of my great and irreplaceable loss?

For months (probably, honestly, for a couple of years!) there was always a subscript to every conversation and face-to-face interaction that read like Subtitles for a foreign film. And some folks lives were just too beautiful, too happy, too much like the one I wished I still had to endure the emotional burden that gap produced for my wounded heart.

So I had to limit my interaction with them (for their sake AND mine).

I unfollowed (NOT unfriended!) people on social media. They were none the wiser that the hap-hap-happy posts they splashed everywhere weren’t appearing in my newsfeed and I wasn’t constantly confronted by my own envy and sorrow.

I sent cards for occasions instead of showing up at certain celebrations. I chose them thoughtfully and wrote meaningful and sincere messages. I didn’t have a single person react badly that their wish was on paper instead of in person.

I withdrew from some of the groups where this kind of “humble bragging” was encouraged and promoted. It was a long, long time before I went to a women’s event that wasn’t focused on child loss.

No one really noticed.

And for those few relationships that were so close I couldn’t graciously or subtly move away, I told my friend that while I valued them, wanted very much to stay in touch and support them and didn’t want everything to be about ME, I needed to let them know certain topics might make me uncomfortable or sad.

So we tried to get together around activities that lent themselves to “in the moment” conversation. We didn’t linger long over lunch or on the phone. We walked in a park or went to a movie.

In time, as I did the work grief requires and as I grew stronger and better able to carry this burden called “child loss”, I was able to ease some of the boundaries I had put in place to protect my heart.

I never, ever want child loss (or any other hard life event or trauma) to become an excuse for my bad or unkind behavior.

But grief is work and requires so much time, energy and effort!

If I hadn’t made space and given myself the necessary grace to do that work I would not have found the measure of healing I now enjoy.

So, yes, dear heart-it’s OK to set boundaries.

It’s OK to pull back from some relationships to foster healing.

And it’s OK to reach out and let people back in, too, when your heart feels more whole again.

Do The Next Right Thing

I’m not a fan of catch phrases that enter the popular lexicon and then take off into all directions.

Too often they reduce complex emotions or situations into a few words that folks find convenient to banter around in the hopes of sounding wise or “in the know” without any genuine attempt to understand what’s really going on.

But sometimes there IS a phrase that accurately summarizes choices or circumstances and is helpful in guiding a heart in the right direction.

“Do the next right thing” is one of those.

As far as I can tell, it was coined by someone (or many someones) who participated in twelve step programs (think AA) and meant that you don’t give in to the temptation to feed your addiction but instead head to a meeting or rendezvous with a sponsor or other safe person who will help you avoid falling back down the rabbit hole.

Grief is definitely a rabbit hole.

And there are lots of times I need someone or something to distract me from the siren call of despair that would lead me right back down to darkness-even eight and half years later.

So how do I manage to shake it off and move forward? It’s really pretty simple: I do the next right thing.

One day it might be getting up, making coffee and going for my morning walk. Another day it might be taking a shower, getting dressed and heading to a doctor’s appointment.

Most days it’s some form of the regular chores that have outlined my life on this piece of property for the past quarter century-feeding horses, cooking meals, tidying the house, sweeping porches, making necessary phone calls or tracking down some important piece of information we all store in the one location that will most likely be here long after I’m gone.

I’ve written before that just changing my physical position when I feel anxiety creeping up my back and taking hold of my brain can help ward off a full blown panic attack. If I’m sitting, I stand; if standing, I walk; if walking, I sit down. We are complex creatures and the body keeps the score (also a title of an excellent book!).

Feelings aren’t JUST feelings. They are neurotransmitters, muscular contraction, heart rate and blood pressure wrapped up in thoughts.

So when faced with a wall of overwhelming and cascading feelings, I do the next right thing-whatever that may be-and often find it breaks through that wall so I can see a sliver of light.

I follow that light like a candle in a cave until it leads me to a way out of the darkness.

Little by little, decision by decision, I move forward.

Some days it’s easy and some days it’s hard.

But it’s always possible.

Dismantling The Past

I’ve spent the last two days rearranging our family room.

Since my husband has retired, we no longer use it as we once did and I realized a few weeks ago that it was ridiculous to have it set up the way it’s been for decades when our needs have drastically changed.

So we decided to tackle the job of sorting/moving/dismantling books, videos (yes, we still have a few!), DVDs, CDs and random other bits and pieces of a life long lived in the same place.

For those of you who have moved often you may have been spared the detritus of papers stuck in cracks and crevices on bookcases with the promise to yourself you’ll “put them where they go when I get a chance”.

Me, not so lucky.

I’ve found treasures-scribbles of younger days from my now (very!) grown children-and sad reminders of projects begun and left hanging because we got too busy to see them through.

The one thing I celebrated in taking apart, digging through and tearing down was this: totally destroying and trashing an old, old, old television stand from back in the day when TVs were far too heavy and far too thick to mount on walls or above fireplaces.

I’d always hated that thing.

We bought it as young marrieds when our budget was tight and floor space was precious in our first small home. It did the job but it was just not my style. And at the time, I wasn’t bold enough or strong enough to speak up and advocate for a different choice.

Oh, there are wonderful memories of my two oldest kids putting on shows dressed up in fun costumes and singing along to our cassette tape playlist. We have more than one photo of that delightful era.

But there were years and years of putting up with something that no longer served our needs (because it was here, bought and paid for, and convenient) instead of ditching it and buying something that would both serve and bring delight.

Closest picture I could find to what we had.

So other than a long march down memory lane, what does this have to do with child loss?

I’ve learned since Dom left us that I’ll no longer stay silent when a habit, a situation, a relationship or a piece of furniture doesn’t serve my current mental, physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual circumstances.

I won’t wait for someone else to notice I’m upset or sad or happy or delighted.

I’ve learned to speak up for myself and ask for things I need. I’m learning (haven’t made the progress I’d like!) to set boundaries and tell others that they may come thus far and no closer. I’m trying harder to rid my life of what is unhelpful and unhealthy.

I’m definitely a work in progress.

And most of the work won’t have such a satisfying and concise conclusion as when I cheerfully watch the pieces of that old TV stand go up in smoke.

But I’m committed to continue dismantling the parts of my past that no longer serve my present.

Bereaved Parents Month 2022: Background Music

Another bereaved mom wrote that she was better able to cope now than she had been a year ago.

And thanks to Facebook memories she had proof.

Several comments down a second mom wrote something that got me thinking-when, exactly, did Dominic’s loss move from the forefront to the background?

I’m not sure I can pinpoint a day or moment when I realized that sorrow was no longer ALL I feel and Dominic’s absence no longer ALL I see.

Read the rest here: Background Music

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