Ten Things I’ve Learned About Child Loss

I’ve had awhile to think about this. Six years is a long time to live with loss, to live without the child I carried, raised and sent off in the world.

So I’ve considered carefully what my “top ten” might be.

Here’s MY list (yours might be very different):

There is absolutely no way to prepare your heart for the death of a child. I have always been an avid reader. Over the years I’ve read dozens of accounts both real and imagined centered around child loss. I’ve seen well-scripted movies and television shows depicting it as well. And, like many parents, I had my moments when I imagined what it might be like for one of my children to leave the house and not return. But nothing-NOTHINGI read, saw or imagined was remotely as devastating as the experience of child loss. In the space of a few words, a few seconds, a single awful door knock, my world was utterly and completely shattered. It’s really no wonder that it takes a lifetime to even begin to put the pieces together.

Most people are doing the best they can to respond to our pain. When Dominic first left us, I was a walking nerve. Anything someone said or didn’t say, a look, a social media post or dozens of other things provoked a reaction: “How could they!?” But eventually, when I was able to think more clearly I recognized they were wrapped in the same protective bubble of “hasn’t experienced child loss” I once enjoyed. How could I expect them to know what to say or do when truth is, I still (to this day) stumble over my tongue when confronted with a parent who joins our ranks. Now I try to receive even the most bumbling efforts as grace gifts offered in hope of encouraging my heart.

Grief lasts longer than sympathy. I’ve written before about the cost of compassion. It’s so much easier to send a card, send a meal, show up at the house or funeral than to walk beside someone for a month or year as they try to pick up and reassemble the fragments of a shattered heart and life. Grief is not the same as mourning. Mourning is a shorter period with lots of outward symbols and rituals that warn others of our broken hearts. Grief is the burden of loss, sorrow, missing and pain that is left behind after everyone else goes home. Grief is lonely.

The circle that will walk with you for the long haul is going to be smaller than you expect and will be comprised of some folks you’d never have imagined. We all have an image of which people will run toward us instead of running away should disaster strike. I did. And some of those folks were there. But others weren’t. After decades of pouring our time, energy, effort, love and lives into more than one church family, I was surprised at who showed up, who stayed away and who was willing to go the extra mile. Of course at the beginning there were hordes of folks and we were very appreciative. But one by one or in groups they quit calling, coming or even texting. The tiny band that has stuck it out is precious. I am so, so thankful for them.

Life goes on without our permission. At first, I just wanted the world to STOP. I wanted every single soul on this planet to realize-at least for a second-that my son was no longer among the living. But of course it didn’t. Not only did the world not stop, it seemed to race ahead. I’ve written before about our family’s busy, busy two months (Graduations and Weddings and Trips, Oh My!) after Dom ran ahead to Heaven. That was just the beginning. In the six years since he’s been gone, there have been all kinds of large and small crises that have rocked our world. I don’t have a pass to slip through my remaining years without trouble or trial.

Loss keeps happening and comes in many forms. Life is risky. If you dare to love, you risk loss. I made a decision early on that I would not cut myself off from those I love in hopes of saving my heart more sorrow. Friendships melt away under the burden of grief. Life circumstances change in unpleasant and unexpected ways. Health deteriorates. Loved ones die. I’ve experienced all these things in the last six years and will experience them until I join Dominic in Heaven. I won’t rail against every one as an injustice or act surprised.

Laughter and joy return if you make space for them. I remember the first time a small chuckle escaped my lips after Dominic left us. It felt like betrayal. How could I laugh when my heart was utterly shattered? Where did that come from? But I learned, over time, that laughing was not dishonoring my son. Laughter is a gift. It’s a way of knitting together some of those broken pieces. It’s a means of allowing light back into a darkened soul. I also learned that joy and sorrow are not opposing feelings. You don’t have to shove one aside to feel the other. You simply have to expand your heart to make room for both. But it IS a choice. I can refuse laughter, joy and light and hunker down with my sadness, sorrow and despair. I have to decide.

The missing never ends. You never reach a moment (as shared by many bereaved parents further along this path than me!) when you won’t miss your child. A parent’s heart carries his or her child as long as it’s still beating. It takes time to learn to live with the ache. It was several years before I could see past Dominic’s absence. When the family gathered the gaping hole where he SHOULD be but WASN’T filled my vision and made it hard to focus on who and what I still possessed. Over time the missing has grown softer. Now, missing Dominic is the background music to everything.  A quiet tune I hum in my head that keeps me company all day and invades my dreams at night. .

You will survive if you keep taking the next breath and making the next step. That first day when the house filled with people coming to support our family after the awful news, I kept asking the women sitting with me, “Am I breathing?”. It felt as if the breath had left my body when the life-shattering words fell on my ears and I couldn’t get it back. But I soon learned that broken hearts still beat. The first anniversary of his death I was horrified to realize I had survived 365 days when I was certain I wouldn’t survive the first 24 hours. Grief  is work. But if you choose to face the feelings, spend time dealing with them and allow your heart space and grace to begin putting the pieces back together you will make progress. I have. It has often been slower and more painstaking than I like, but it’s happened.

I’m still learning.

Almost every day I find another place grief is changing my life, my family’s life and my heart ever so slightly. In a few more years this list may be different.

For now, it’s my top ten.

I hope it helps another parent who might be wondering what to expect in this Life [We] Didn’t Choose.

What’s Changed, What’s The Same Six Years Down The Road Of Child Loss?

What’s changed and what is still the same six years down the road of child loss?

I’ve thought about this a lot in the past few months as I prepared for, greeted and marked another year of unwelcome milestones since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Some things are exactly the same:

  • Whenever I focus solely on his absence, my heart still cries, “Can he REALLY be gone?” I am STILL A Mess Some Days….
  • The pain is precisely as painful as the moment I got the news.
  • It’s just as horrific today to dwell on the manner of his leaving.
  • I miss him, I miss him, I miss him. I live every day with his Tangible Absence.
  • I am thankful for his life, for the opportunity to be his mama and for the part of me shaped by who he was.
  • The absolute weight of grief has not changed. The burden remains a heavy one.
  • Daily choices are the difference between giving up and going on. I have to make Wise Choices in Grief.
  • My faith in Christ and my confidence that His promises are sure is the strength on which I rely. I have been Knocked Down But Not Destroyed.
  • I passionately look forward to the culmination of all history when every sad thing will come untrue.

Some things are very different:

  • Dominic’s absence is no longer all I see.
  • Sorrow and pain are no longer all I feel.
  • I’ve learned to live in spite of the hole in my heart-his unique place isn’t threatened by allowing myself to love others and pouring my life into the people I have left.
  • Joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive. They live together in my heart and I can smile and laugh again while still pining for a time when things were different and easier.
  • I am Stronger because I’ve carried this burden for years. I’ve learned to shift it from side to side.
  • The darkness has receded so that I see light once more. I’m not as prone to fall as fast down the dark hole of despair.
  • My heart longs for reunion but has also learned to treasure the time I have left here on earth.

I’ve never hidden the struggle and pain of this journey.

But I don’t want those who are fresh in grief to think that how they are feeling TODAY is the way they will feel FOREVER.

By doing the work grief requires, making wise choices and holding onto hope a heart does begin to heal.

I am not as fragile today as I was on the first day.

And I am so, so thankful for that.

Every Minute, Every Moment There Was Jesus

In the waiting, in the searching

In the healing and the hurting

Like a blessing buried in the broken pieces

Every minute, every moment

Where I’ve been and where I’m going

Even when I didn’t know it or couldn’t see it

There was Jesus

Jonathan Smith/ Casey Beathard/ Zach Williams -“There Was Jesus”

Songs reach places in my heart that words alone can never touch.

There is so much truth in this one.

When I couldn’t see Him, couldn’t feel Him, had no evidence of His Presence-Jesus was there.

His strength sustained me, His love protected my heart from bitterness, His grace was enough-is enough-for each day.

In the waiting, in the searching.

There was Jesus.

In the healing and the hurting.

There was Jesus.

There is a blessing buried in the broken pieces.

He is Jesus.

Is There A Cure For Our Broken Hearts?

Healing and curing are not the same thing.

Healing is a process that takes as long as it takes and may never be complete this side of eternity.  It’s a folding in of the hard parts of my story, an acknowledgement of the way I am changed because of the wounds I’ve received.  It involves scar tissue and sore spots and ongoing pain.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/04/08/healing-curing-same-thing/

Lost Spring: Social Distancing Before It Was Cool

It really is possible to stay home.

Our family proved it more than 25 years ago.

Four kids, seven and under, one mama and a tiny house survived one solid month of alone time.

Photo taken that same year. ❤

The chicken pox made its rounds in our local weekly Bible study and pretty much every kid that hadn’t had it got it. So it wasn’t long until more than half the class was home riding out the wave of itchy, blotchy skin, fever and discomfort.

We couldn’t get it all at once. Oh no!

It went through my four one at a time with a bit of overlap so we were slathering on calamine lotion by the quart, taking baking soda and oatmeal baths several times a day and watching waaaayyyy more television than any of my children had seen so far in their lives.

It took slightly over a month for us to finally be free of it and I’ll admit it tried my patience. I spent a lot of time looking through the windows at a busy world outside, longing to be part of it.

There was a wisteria vine in my across-the-street neighbor’s yard that crept up the telephone poll outside the living room window.

Image result for wisteria images

I watched as it went from brown twig to wisps of green and finally dripping purple in all its glory while I was stuck inside trying to keep unwell children happy and stop them scratching themselves into infection.

I lost that spring. We all did.

But we came out the other side just fine.

I lost another spring in 2014.

And this time it was absolutely, positively NOT fine.

It’s still not fine.

April 12, 2014 Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Because of both springs, I will tell you this: If staying home means I can be part of the solution to the spread of Covid 19 and perhaps spare another family a lost spring, a lost loved one, a frightening brush with death-I’m happy to do it.

My personal comfort, sense of freedom, arrogant assumption that I am the exception to the well-intentioned and common sense advice of healthcare professionals is a tiny, tiny price to pay in order to slow down the pace of this disease so those who need extra attention, hospitalization and intervention get it.

Image result for slowing the spread of coronavirus

Losing a spring is an unfortunate happenstance.

Losing a son, a daughter, a brother, sister, mother or father is a tragedy.

Hey-I survived over a month with four itchy, irritable children and no internet, no food delivery, no grocery pick up, no online buddies-you can manage a couple weeks.

I promise.

Image result for stop spreading germs

Secondary Losses And Child Loss


While I certainly had no real idea in the first hours or even weeks what losing a child entailed, I understood plainly that it meant I would not have Dominic to see, hold or talk to.

I wouldn’t be able to hug his neck or telephone him.  

He wouldn’t be sitting at my table any more.

But the death of a child or other loved one has a ripple effect.  It impacts parts of life you might not expect.  As time went on, I was introduced to a whole list of losses commonly called “secondary losses”.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/02/01/child-loss-and-secondary-losses/

February 2020 Retreat For Bereaved Moms

Retreats are not for everyone.

In fact, I’ve never been the retreat kind of gal myself.

But I’ve changed my mind about one very different type of retreat that has both encouraged my heart and led to deep and lasting friendships with other women who know the pain of child loss.

Since February, 2018 I’ve had the privilege to be part of two unique, intimate and life-giving retreats for bereaved moms.

This February (21-23) will be the third.

This time we are focusing on God’s promises to redeem our pain, to restore our hearts and to weave the broken threads of our lives into a beautiful tapestry that testifies to hope, grace and the faithful love of our faithful Father.

He binds their wounds, heals the sorrows of their hearts.

Psalm 147:2 VOICE

Hope Lee, a fellow mom-in-loss, provides the wonderful facility (a cozy but spacious camp house in the Mississippi countryside) and I facilitate interactive sessions filled with Bible study, sharing and encouragement.

There is plenty of time to just visit, lots of great food and we usually do a fun craft or other slightly zany activity.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet other moms whose experience may help you in your journey.  It will definitely be a safe space to let your hair down and take your mask off. 

I have left each weekend with renewed energy, hope and courage for this often tiresome and lonely road.

Depending where you are in this journey the thought of a weekend away with other bereaved moms may be either terrifying or exciting.

But may I encourage you-whether terrified or excited-to listen to the Spirit?  If He is pushing you to step out in faith, do it.

I promise you won’t regret it!  

Spaces are limited so call or text Hope at 662-574-8445 today and reserve your spot.

Solitude or Isolation? Which is it?

I’ve always loved my alone time.

As an introvert (who can, if pressed pretend not to be!) my energy is restored when I interact with one or two folks or no one at all.  A dream afternoon is writing while listening to nothing louder than the wind chimes outside my door.

I treasure solitude.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I find I need even more alone time than before.

That quiet place is where I do my most effective grief work, undisturbed by interruptions and distractions.

But I need to be careful that solitude doesn’t shift into isolation. 

I have to remind my heart that spending time with others keeps me from falling so deeply down the well of despair that all I see is darkness.

I need human interaction to keep me connected to a world that, quite frankly, I might sometimes just as soon leave behind.

So how can I tell the difference between solitude and isolation?

Here are a few questions that help me figure that out:

  • Do I feel lonely, neglected or abandoned? If my alone time feels less like a gift and more like an unwelcome burden then it may be isolation rather than solitude.
  • Where are my thoughts taking me? Being alone is often the only way to “hear” my own thoughts without having to block out the noise and activity of other people. If I am sitting with myself, processing hard things or even beautiful things, resolving internal conflict, conjuring new ways to deal with difficult relationships or situations then solitude is doing its work. If, instead, I find my mind tangled up in fearful knots, filled with negative self-talk or unable to break a downward spiral into despair then I probably need to find someone to talk to.
  • Am I getting stronger or being drained? After the holidays or other hectic seasons I need time alone to recharge my batteries. Often it is almost a day-for-day exchange. I can feel tension melting away and strength returning. My mind begins to clear and life doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Solitude grants space for my body, mind and soul to be refreshed. When it slides into isolation I can feel the shift. Instead of waking refreshed and eager to greet a free day, I wake to dreading another long one alone. Instead of energy rising in my spirit, I can feel it draining away. Instead of thinking kindly of friends and family who choose to leave me be, I’m resentful no one has checked up on me.
  • Is there a helpful rhythm to my days alone or am I counting the hours until sundown? When I’m enjoying solitude, the hours feel like a welcome opportunity to do things (or not do things!) at my own pace and according to my own preferences. I sit with pen in hand and jot down a list knowing that if I complete it or if I don’t the only person I have to answer to is myself. No pressing appointments and no worrisome commitments. When I’m isolating, the hours feel like a long march through deep mud-every step tedious, treacherous and exhausting. I’m alone but I’m not getting any benefit from it. If I’m enduring instead of enjoying then I’m isolating.
  • Do I have an endpoint in mind? When I look ahead at a week on my calendar, I try to balance alone time with social commitments. A day or two alone (or with limited human interaction) is solitude. A week holed up in the house is isolation. If I find myself pushing off needed outings (to the grocery store, to run errands) then I ask myself, “why?”. Often it’s because I’ve drifted from solitude (helpful alone time) to isolation (unhelpful hiding).

I can shift myself out of isolation by choosing just one small social interaction.

I might text or message a friend, go to the grocery store and make a point of speaking to the clerk, call someone or show up at a church or community event even if I sit in the back and slip out early.

I’m never going to be that person who is up for every outing. That’s just not how I’m made and child loss has intensified my need for solitude.

But I don’t want to be alone and lonely, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of my own making.

Some days it’s harder than others.

But I keep trying.

This Is What It Means To Be Held

Music has been an important part of my healing.

Not always, or even often, because it makes me feel better.

Rather, like poetry, music distills deep emotions into few words that resonate in my soul.

This isn’t a new song and I have heard it many times. But just the other day someone posted it in a group where we were praying desperately for a baby with profound health issues. Barring a touch from the Father’s hand, there was little hope.

The precious little warrior went home to rest, healed and whole, in the arms of Jesus.

So I listened again. And I realized how unbearably true the lyrics are.

Two months is too little

They let him go

They had no sudden healing

To think that providence would

Take a child from his mother while she prays

Is appalling

Who told us we’d be rescued?

What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?

We’re asking why this happens

To us who have died to live?

It’s unfair

Natalie Grant, This is What it Means to be Held

Appalling, unfair, why did this happen?

Oh, how those questions still rattle around in my heart and mind on some days. When Dominic first left for Heaven they were my constant companion.

“Who told us we’d be rescued?”

Who indeed.

Certainly not Jesus.

He said we’d have trouble in this world. He never sugar coated how hard life could be.

But He left us with the promise that He would be with us no matter what. We would never be alone in the flood or the fire or the deep, deep pit of child loss.

This is what it means to be held

How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life

And you survive

This is what it is to be loved

And to know that the promise was

When everything fell we’d be held

Natalie Grant

Child loss shattered everything-my heart, my world and my understanding of how God works in it. The sacred was most certainly “torn from my life”.

My struggle with the God I thought I knew was as painful as the devastation of burying my son.

This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow

Natalie Grant

It’s so tempting to swallow bitterness when unending despair seems like the only alternative.

But it doesn’t numb the sorrow. Bitterness turns a heart so hard it can’t feel anything-not even love.

The wise hand does open slowly-oh, so slowly-to the beauty and promise of tomorrow.

This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held

Natalie Grant

When we received the news that Dominic left us that early, still-dark morning, I looked over to a sculpture of upturned hands on my living room table and said, “I can’t open my hands to receive blessings if I don’t also leave them open for the bruisings.”

It’s true.

God is holding me still. He is blessing me still.

I will, undoubtedly, be bruised again in some way.

I know His faithful love will see me through.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Earth Has No Sorrow That Heaven Can’t Heal

Can we just admit that life is hard?

Can we stop hiding our sorrow and pain and struggles and difficulties and let people in on what’s going on?

I truly believe that if we did, we’d all be better for it.

Because no one-really, truly no one-is spared from some kind of problem. And for many of us, it has nothing to do with our own choices. It’s visited upon us from the outside.

It comes out of nowhere, happens fast and suddenly consumes every aspect of our lives.

If you are a believer in Jesus, you might think you should be immune to these hardships. You might do a quick calculation and decide that, on balance, you’ve led a pretty decent life and certainly God should notice and spare you and yours from awful tragedy.

Or you might look around and notice all those who leave hurt and heartache in their wake and wonder why they seem to live a charmed life while death and destruction have visited yours.

No matter how you try to disguise it, death is a hard pill to swallow.

Jesus didn’t deny that.

Today’s verses are some of the most poignant in His long discourse to the disciples as He was preparing them for His death.

Jesus knew they had questions to ask of Him, so He approached them.
Jesus: Are you trying to figure out what I mean when I say you will see Me in a little while? 20 I tell you the truth, a time is approaching when you will weep and mourn while the world is celebrating. You will grieve, but that grief will give birth to great joy. 21-22 In the same way that a woman labors in great pain during childbirth only to forget the intensity of the pain when she holds her child, when I return, your labored grief will also change into a joy that cannot be stolen.
23 When all this transpires, you will finally have the answers you have been seeking. I tell you the truth, anything you ask of the Father in My name, He will give to you. 24 Until this moment, you have not sought after anything in My name. Ask and you will receive so that you will be filled with joy.

John 16: 19-24 VOICE

Notice that Jesus didn’t wait for his disciples to approach Him with their questions. Out of compassion and love, He approached THEM.

He does the same with us today.

Many of the questions I’ve struggled with since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven are answered in Scripture.

That’s why it is so, so important to read my Bible. Some days I use a concordance to help me find pertinent verses, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings them to mind. Not every question will be answered this side of eternity. But at the least I am reminded of God’s faithful love and trustworthy character.

Jesus begins by asserting what He knows is true but wants them to affirm: “You’ve got some questions, don’t you?”

Then He acknowledges their pain. He doesn’t shy away from saying that things will feel unfair. It will appear as though evil has won and the Kingdom of God defeated.

But then He offers hope.

Their grief will ultimately turn to joy.

I think this joy is twofold-they had a taste of it when Jesus revealed Himself as Risen Savior during the forty days after the resurrection. But the fullness of that joy for them, like us, is only available in eternity.

Childbirth as analogy for this life leading into the next is so helpful!

When laboring to bring forth a baby, no one knows for sure how long that terrible pain will last. In the middle of it, more than one mama has thought (and sometimes said or screamed), “I don’t want to do this!”

But that same mama, when handed her precious child, often bursts into joyous tears that wash away the memory of how impossible it all seemed just moments before.

How many of us would gladly go through every moment of pain to have our child back in our arms?

No woman is pregnant forever.

Sooner or later that baby will be born.

This life of travail won’t last forever either.

By death or transformation, we will be freed from this earthly tent. The worn out and worn down will be restored and renewed.

One day-one glorious Day-I will have every answer I seek.

Jesus says, “when I return” and “when this transpires” their grief will turn to joy.

I have a foretaste of ultimate joy in the comfort, ministry and companionship of the Holy Spirit. But I cannot know fullness of joy until Jesus returns.

And that joy will overwhelm every heartache.

QUESTIONS:

  • Can you relate to the disciples’ fear of asking Jesus their questions? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a concordance? Do you know how to use it? Have you ever looked up verses when you had a specific question?
  • Just as it’s really impossible to describe both the intensity of the pain of childbirth and the intensity of the joy of holding your baby, it’s impossible for us to fully comprehend how the pain of this life will eventually be swallowed up by joy in eternity. Write 3 ways you think this is a good analogy. How might this help you hold onto hope in the long “labor” of life while waiting for “delivery” on God’s promises?
  • I admit I’m impatient for some of the answers to my questions. I have to remind my heart that no amount of time will seem long in comparison to what waits for me. How do you help your heart make peace with the idea that many, many years may stretch before you without answers?
  • C.S. Lewis was a gifted writer and faithful follower of Jesus. Read the quote above slowly, repeatedly and thoughtfully. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Lord, You do not despise my questions.

You don’t expect me to transcend my frail human understanding. When I bring my questions to You, you may not give me the answer I seek but You always give me mercy, grace and more of Yourself.

Help me hold onto the word picture You shared with Your disciples. No labor lasts forever. I can rest assured that however long life lasts for me on earth, it will be but the tiniest blip in light of eternity. Agony here-yes, and often more than I think I can bear. But joy unspeakable is waiting!

Thank You for the hope I have in Jesus. Thank You for Your grace.

Give me strength to endure no matter how hard it may become. Help me finish strong and enter Heaven with “Hallelujah!” on my lips.

Amen