Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

It will be five years in April since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve learned a few things since then.

letting-go

Time, by itself, heals nothing.  But time, plus the work grief requires, brings a measure of healing.  

If I cling with both hands to my loss, I can’t take hold of the good things life still has in store for me.  

Longing for the past all the time only brings sorrow.  I cannot turn back time.  Days, weeks, years will keep coming whether or not I choose to participate in them.  I will rob my heart of potential joy by focusing exclusively on the sorrow I can’t undo.

Daily choices add up.  When I lean into the small things required each day, I build confidence that I can do the bigger things that might still frighten me.  Making phone calls eventually helps me show up to a meeting or to church.  I strengthen my “can do” muscle every time I use it.

Doubt doesn’t disappear. Facing my doubt forces me to explore the edges of my faith.  It does no good for me to stuff questions in a drawer and hope they go away.  They won’t.  I have to drag them into the light and examine them.  Doubt is not denial.  If God is God (and I believe that He is!) then my puny queries don’t diminish His glory.  He knows I’m made of dust and He invites me to bring my heart to Him-questions and all.

My mental diet matters more than I might think.  I have to be very careful what I feed my mind.  If I focus on sadness, tragic stories, hateful speech and media that feeds my fears and despair then those feelings grow stronger.  If instead I focus on hopeful stories, good conversation with faithful friends and inspiring quotes, verses and articles I feed the part of my heart that helps me hold onto hope.

I need a space where I can be completely honest about what this journey is like.  Bereaved parents’ groups have been that space for me and have been an important component of my healing.  But even there I must be cautious about how much time I spend reading other parents’ stories if I notice that I’m absorbing too much pain and not enough encouragement.

me too sharing the path

Grief is hard.  

It’s work. 

And that work is made up of dozens of daily choices that are also often difficult.  

I don’t expect to be healed and whole this side of eternity.  But I do know that if I consistently do the work grief requires I will be stronger, more whole and better able to lean into the life I have left than if I don’t.

I want to live. 

I want to honor my son by living a life that’s more than just limping along, barely making it, struggling for each step.  

So I do the work grief asks of me.  

Even when it’s hard.  

give yourself space to do the work grief requires

 

Enough or Not Enough?

I already struggled with the sense that I was rarely able to meet everyone’s expectations before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. 

That’s been multiplied by a factor of at least 100 since then.

For those of you who are so self-confident or blissfully unaware, it won’t make sense but for those of you who are firstborns or “Type A” personalities you know exactly what I mean.

I cannot ignore the gap between what people need from me and what I’m able to give.  

My internal dialogue is a combination of self-condemnation and pep talks to “do better”, “try harder” and “don’t give up or give in”.

But no matter how hard I try, it’s never enough.  

And I need to let go of that.  I need to let myself off the hook.  I need to admit that some people’s expectations are unrealistic or self-serving.  

But it is so. very. hard.  

I have had an invisible disease for a decade that saps my energy, circumscribes my ability to do daily tasks and gifts me with chronic pain.  Yet I tend to discount the impact it has on my life and try to ignore the fact it makes every. single thing more difficult.

It will be five years in April that Dominic left us.  FIVE YEARS!  I can barely type that.  I don’t even know what to do with it.

A lifetime ago and a breath away all at the same time.  

I feel like I am giving everything  I have to my family, to my friends and to other folks that count on me to show up.  So often it’s not enough.  So often I fall short.  So often I go to bed shaking my head and hoping that tomorrow is a better day and I’m a better person.

I try so hard to be brave.  

Sometimes I simply can’t conjure courage.

But I keep showing up. ❤

love is courage

 

 

One Little Word 2019

I used to spend every New Year’s morning with my Bible, my thoughts and my Lord.

I wrote each family member’s name in my journal and waited for the Holy Spirit to give me a verse to pray for them for the next year.

I would end with my own name and ask God what good works He had planned for me.

When I look back over these journals I realize that what I had essentially been doing for decades was asking God for “One Little Word” to focus my energy, resources and attention each year.

I honestly believe that every human on the face of the Earth is here for a reason. They are not a random collection of cells and neurons. They are created in the image of an Almighty God to impact the people around them in specific ways.

So I challenge you to ask the God of the universe to give you One Little Word for 2019. 

And then hold every potential commitment up to that light to determine if it is really part of God’s plan for you this year.

For some of my hurting parent friends the word may be “healing” or “rest” and that’s just fine.  For others it may be “endurance” or “perseverance” and that’s fine too.

It’s between you and God.

May you hear clearly and receive with open hands.

NOTE:  If this sounds familiar, it is. I posted it last year around this time but find it helpful for my heart and hope it’s equally helpful for someone else’s as well.

My word last year was really two words:  “speaking truth”.  I think being focused on that was instrumental in healing several relationships.

I’d love to hear your stories too.  (Bear in mind that comments here are PUBLIC).  ❤

Are There Any Gifts in Grief?

It was a long time before I wanted to believe that I received any gifts worth keeping from this life I didn’t choose.

I knew I had tears, pain, agonizing sorrow, loss, heartache, dashed hopes, empty arms.

If I could give those back and regain my son, I would do it in less than a heartbeat.

I can’t, so I’m left here to ponder what else I’ve received from burying a child.

Read the rest here:  Grace Gifts of Grief

Christmas Morning Prayer for Hurting Hearts

Oh, dear one who opened your eyes to the morning light carrying wounds so deep no one can see!

I am so, so sorry.

When things have gone terribly wrong it’s hard to get up and make merry.

I know.

grief is love unfinished

But that first Christmas felt more like heartache and less like ho-ho-ho.  So you are in good company.

You don’t have to pretend that nothing has changed but you can reach out and take hold of what remains.

You don’t have to hide your tears or your memories but you can share them with people who love you and long to help you carry the legacy of the one you miss.

grief like joy is holy receipt pink

Today may be long.

But it is only one day.

You can make it.

You will make it.

I promise.

May you experience the Presence of the Christ of Christmas no matter how dark and lonely and sad you feel.  May your heart hold onto hope regardless of how tempted it is to give in to despair.  May the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed Mary, overwhelm you and fill you with grace and mercy.  May you hear the Father whisper, “Courage, My child” to your soul.

And more than all this, may you know that you are seen, you are loved and you are being carried.  ❤

~Melanie DeSimone

 

 

“Special Handling Required”

This time of year all the package handlers are busy dropping off the bounty of online shoppers’ purchases to millions of doorsteps around the world.  

It’s a wonder that most of it arrives on time and in good condition.  

amazon boxes at door

I suspect though, that you, like me, have gotten one or two boxes over the years that arrived dinged and damaged, battered and broken.

While it can be a real hassle to get the product replaced, it’s usually only a matter of time before a brand new “whatever” arrives.  

People aren’t so easily mended, though.  

And I think we forget that.  

People are more fragile than they appear. Words are more piercing than we realize. We should add in an extra notch of kindness and gentleness whenever we can.

~Gavin Ortlund

I have friends that take more care with their smartphone than with their spouse or children or parents.

Things can be replaced.  People can’t.

Mass produced consumer goods-no matter how expensive or treasured-are worthless compared to a heart.

In an age where clicks and phone calls make it possible to fix so many things, they are rarely helpful in fixing relationships.

“Special Handling Required!” should be plastered across every human’s forehead.  

People are irreplaceable, fragile, beautiful gifts.  

More valuable than anything we could ever buy.  ❤

words and hearts should be handled with care

 

 

 

 

Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Think about Scrooge.  When was his heart able to make the turn and embrace the joy that Christmas represents?  It took one long night and four strange visitors to take him down a path where he understood his own strength was woefully inadequate to accomplish anything.  It was finally the spectre of death-death of relationships, death of a child and the certainty of his own lonely demise that shook him from slumber and awakened him to real life and love and joy.

scrooge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Now consider the story of the first Christmas.  Two poor sojourners in desperate need of a place to stay and, even more important, a place to birth a baby. 

But not just any baby.  No, this was the Promised One, Immanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Light of the World.  Yet He made His appearance in the dark, in a stable and unnoticed.

I don’t know if Mary felt hope-filled or hopeless as she labored without the company of other women to encourage and guide her.  But I can imagine there were moments if not hours, of something like hopelessness.

Yet it ended with her holding the God of the universe in her hands.

jesus-christmas

What about Israel?  Four hundred long years since Jehovah had shut the mouths of prophets and allowed the Apple of His Eye to wallow in the darkness they had begged for by turning away from the God Who loved them.  Prophesies were still handed down like good luck tokens but many who heard them had long ago decided they didn’t matter.

It was dark in the world of Judea.

So, so very dark.

Hopelessness prevailed.

And that is precisely when the angel showed up and the sky was bright with praise:

Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 

~Luke 2:10-11 VOICE

It was all the brighter because it was dark.  It was that much more joyous because hopeless hearts were longing for something to cling to.

shepherds angels

There is no shame in being hopeless and broken.

God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Christmas is the story of Hope entering the world, of Light shining forth in darkness, of Love overcoming death.

A heart has to be looking to find it.

A heart has to be desperate to believe it.

A heart has to be hungry to come to the table of everlasting bread.

Have you been living in the land of deep shadows? I have. I’ve spent long years in that gray and weary country, and sometimes it makes me feel disqualified from Christmas. Most Christmas carols do not talk about daunting shadows or dreary days. They talk about sparkle and shimmer. They talk ho-ho-ho-ing and mistletoeing, and all of that is fine and fun if you’re having a great year. But let’s be honest about the fact that this relentless commercialized happiness is not really what lives at the heart of Christmas.

Christmas is deeper than that.  It reaches into darker places.  Jesus didn’t come to cheer us up.  He came into the shadowlands we call home to set us free.  He came to untangle us from the despair that wraps itself around our joy and peace and purpose.  It seems, then, that hopelessness is the very first qualification for receiving the bright hope of Christmas.  Perhaps you are exactly where you need to be to experience the miracle of Advent after all.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt