Defining Moments

I recently read a young bereaved mother’s blog post and it saddened me.  She had suffered two pre-term losses and in addition to bearing that pain, she had been pressured to dismiss her babies’ deaths as unimportant.

This grieving mama was told that she was “not defined by her tragedies” and encouraged to “rise above them” and to “move on”.

Along with the natural questions about God that arise in the wake of loss, her believing friends didn’t offer the support she needed to persevere in faith.  She now defines herself as “faith-less”.

I told her I was so very sorry that this was her experience.  And that we ARE defined by our tragedies, just as we are defined by our joyful moments, our exciting moments and our fearful moments.

Only people who have never suffered a great and deeply scarring loss can afford to say something as flippant as that.

I am a wife.  I wasn’t always a wife.

But one day I went into the church in a white dress and walked out of the church a wife. No one would argue that the moment my husband and I stood before God and witnesses didn’t redefine both of us in ways we wouldn’t fully comprehend for years.

I am a mother.  I wasn’t always a mother.

But one day a little life began growing inside me and nine months later, my daughter was in my arms.  Three sons followed soon after. Even though they are all grown and one son lives in heaven, I AM STILL A MOTHER.

I am a college graduate, a Southerner, a shepherd, a follower of Christ–all parts of who I am that were declared in a moment, that define who I am today and will continue to shape who I am tomorrow.

So when my son died suddenly in an accident and a deputy came to my door to give me the news,  it changed me.  It modified who I am and who I will be.

Bereavement became part of the fabric of my life, altered the color of the threads and changed the pattern of the weave. It is impossible to pull out that thread without unravelling the whole cloth.

I can make choices about HOW tragedy will define me, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t affect my very soul.

It’s easier to acknowledge pleasant milestones and moments because they affirm our hope that life will be joyful and happy.  We wear symbols to remind us of them–wedding rings, school rings, crosses–and invite people to share how life has changed because of choices made.

It’s much harder to offer hospitality to the hurting heart.  It takes more energy to listen to the tragic tale.  It requires more understanding to allow a broken soul into our living room and bear witness to the pain.

But the most beautiful art is defined by contrast between light and dark. The most moving music contains major and minor keys.  The most compelling story includes tragedy and triumph.

There are many things that define me and bereavement is only one of them.  But it IS one of them. My life can only be understood by including them all.

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Brave

I grew up reading and hearing tales of bravery, of one person risking their life for another, of people standing for their convictions and dying because of it.

The first time I read The Hiding Place,  a book about Corrie Ten Boom and her family’s commitment to hide Jews from the Nazis, I cried and cried.

It cost them everything to do the one thing God had called them to do.

As the years rolled by, I learned of personal stories of rushing into burning buildings to save children and of others standing between violence and its intended victim.

All of these people were brave.  All of them put aside fear of their own safety to do the right thing.

But I am here to tell you, some of the bravest people I know are mamas who have buried a child.

It’s one thing to act in an instant-when adrenaline rushes through your veins and pumps extraordinary strength to your muscles and grants clarity to your mind to gather all your nerve and power to jump in and DO SOMETHING.

It is quite another when, without aid of chemical courage, you wake each day to a long list of “to do” items knowing all the while you will be dragging the heavy weight of grief and sorrow everywhere you go.

Brave is the mama that still participates in her surviving children’s birthdays and school plays and graduations and weddings–all the while marking in her heart the child that IS NOT THERE.

Brave is the mama who gets up, gets dressed and walks out the door to work.  The one who manages to lay aside the overwhelming grief load and still get the job done.

Brave is the mama who boxes up what’s left of her child’s belongings, the things that speak of who he was and who he was going to be and lays them aside for another day, when the pain might be less and she can look  at them again.

Brave is the mama with the broken heart who keeps on keeping on-who shows up to church, who goes shopping, who cleans her house, who refuses to give in to the cloud of doom that threatens to undo her.

And the very bravest thing about these mamas is that they know, THEY KNOW, that this side of heaven, there will be no relief, there will be no respite and they have no idea how close they are to the finish line.

courage doesn't always roar

These brokenhearted warriors are committed to continue to love the child they lost and those around them by bravely facing each day as it comes, giving the best they have to give, and persevering until the end.

Gifts of Spring

I spend a lot of time outdoors and love to notice the small details that announce the changing seasons.

Just a week ago I began to see tiny purple flowers peeking through the winter brown and heralding Spring’s return. Yesterday I found the first shy violets lifting their heads and today green has spread across the pastures overnight until it fills more space than the drab gray patches left over from last year’s bounty.

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It is a good thing that the earth still turns and the seasons still roll.  It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promise:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22 NIV

New flowers, new life, longer days, brighter sunshine are gifts.

But they are also a reminder that another season has passed, another calendar page has been torn off, another year has rolled by without the companionship of the child I love.

One of the things I am learning in this grief journey is that pain and joy, gladness and sorrow, hope and regret will forever be mixed in the marrow of my bones.  Every smile will carry with it a tinge of sadness.  Every new memory made will conjure up an old one undone.

And this is a gift as well.

Contrast sharpens the edges of everything.  And death makes life more precious.

Now that I know, by experience, breath is fleeting and that no matter how carefully I plan, the future is not in my hands, I am free to live and love and inhale the fragrance of this one sacred moment because there just might not be another.

 And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

James 4:13-15 MSG

 

 

Am I Normal?

Believe me, no one wonders more than I if the things I’m feeling, the things I’m doing and the rate at which I am healing is “normal”.

I belong to a couple of bereavement support groups and a recurring theme is, “Am I crazy?  Is this the way it is supposed to be?”

Sometimes grieving parents wonder these things because of their own misgivings.

But often, we question our feelings and experience because of external pressure.

And that is unfortunate and unfair.

When a mom brings her new baby home from the hospital, people are quick to remind her that life “will never be the same”.

She is encouraged to seek advice and help from friends and family and given space and time to figure out this new way of being.  As the years pass, she might express frustration and concern over the challenges of going back to work, sleepless nights, feeding issues, potty training, and dozens of other, everyday struggles that result from welcoming this little person into the family.  And that is just the beginning. 

No one thinks it strange that the ADDITION of a child is a life-long adjustment.

So, why, why, why is it strange that the SUBTRACTION of a child would also require accommodation for the rest of a mother’s life?

My heart grew larger when Dominic was born and the space that is his cannot and will not be filled by anyone or anything else.

I am learning each day to work around this empty spot.  I am becoming stronger and better able to carry the weight of grief that I must bear.

I can do many of the things I used to do before the only place I could visit Dominic was at the cemetary.

But I have to do them differently.  I need more help.  It takes more time. And sometimes I find after I plan to go somewhere that I am just not able to go after all.

I will never “get over” burying my son.

There will always be another mountain to climb, another loss to mourn, another hurdle to clear in this grief journey.

Dominic is part of me.  That didn’t change when he went home to be with Jesus.

The absence of his presence is EVERYWHERE.

And just for the record–missing the child I love for the rest of my life is perfectly normal.

 

 

Acknowledging Our Grief Anniversaries

An insightful and universally applicable post-everryone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about-walk gently in this life.

“I’ve tried to remember this because it helps me to realize that most people I encounter every day are doing this continual memorializing of someone they love too. They, like me have these constant pinpricks to the heart that they are experiencing at any given moment. They, like me could be internally reeling for what seems to be no apparent reason. This very ordinary day for me could be a day of extraordinary mourning for them.”

john pavlovitz

SadGirlBeach

I always struggle on sunny Saturday mornings.

It was a brilliantly blue-skyed September Saturday two and a half years ago, when I bounded down the stairs on the way to the gym and noticed my phone vibrating on the hallway table. The caller ID told me that it was my youngest brother Eric and so I rushed to it, eager to catch up. Had I known what he was going to tell me ten seconds later, I probably wouldn’t have answered it.

That was the moment I found out that my father was gone.

As only those who mourn the loss of someone they love deeply understand, sunny Saturday mornings have never been the same for me. They are now a Grief Anniversary; a perpetual, involuntary holiday where my heart marks its injury over and over and over again without me getting a say in the matter. Since that terrible day there has rarely been a Saturday morning regardless of…

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The Not-So-Golden Rule

When Jesus gave us the Golden Rule, He was speaking to the exceptions we all want to draw, the people we want to exclude and the behavior we want to justify.  He didn’t say, “Do unto others (except those that aren’t like us, those that don’t agree with us, those that treat us badly) as you would have them do unto you.” He offered no exceptions.

I like the author’s call to think about what we are teaching our children when we make excuses for inexcusable behavior in adults.

 

 

If we are teaching our children that behaviors of aggression and bullying are allowable in certain circumstances, then why are we surprised when they grow up and violence and anger become the langu…

Source: The Not-So-Golden Rule

You Existed, You Exist

Sometimes this thought is  what gets me through the day:

You existed, you exist.

Sometimes I say it to his photo on my phone:

You existed, you exist.

Sometimes I want to scream it out the window:

YOU EXISTED! YOU EXIST!

My son is not a number or a statistic or only a memory.

He is integral to my story, blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh–part of my life.

I rest assured he lives in heaven with Jesus but I miss him here with me. That’s selfish, I know.  But I can’t seem to help it.

I don’t know how to be glad that my young, healthy, brilliant child died-just like that-here one moment, gone the next.

The broken heart of every parent who has buried a child cries out:

My child existed..

He lived.

He mattered.

My child exists still.

He lives.

He matters.

 

 

“Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,
    walk away from the baby she bore?” ~Isaiah 49:15 MSG