Note To Self: Forward is Forward

I’m pretty sure the first time I wrote a note to myself was in second grade.

I had discovered a book of quotes and decided that some were worth remembering so I copied them down and taped them to my bedroom wall

Now I have notes all over the house-on kitchen cabinets, the refrigerator door, my bathroom mirror, above my bed-anywhere my eyes might land when my heart needs encouragement.

Here are the ones I have posted now:

[Be present.]

I don’t want to miss a single moment with the ones I love because I know too well that more moments are not promised.

[Choose to listen.]

It’s so easy to babble on and not HEAR the other person in front of me or on the phone.  I already know what I’M thinking and feeling, listening is the only way to know what THEY’RE thinking and feeling.

[Escape ruts.]

Habits are helpful when they remind me to brush my teeth.  Not so much when they lead me down paths of fruitless relationship patterns and knee-jerk responses.  I’m not a thoughtless amoeba.  I can change.

[Forward is forward.]

If I am ONE INCH closer to my goal then I have made progress.  I refuse to be discouraged, no matter how slowly I am walking, crawling or limping ahead.

[Laugh!]

Laughter makes life lighter.  There is already too much heaviness in this journey.  Never miss a chance to laugh and lighten the load.

[Do small things with great love.]

I will never take a national stage or be able to address giant problems, but I can bend down to kiss a skinned knee, open a door for an old lady and bake cookies for my neighbor.  I won’t neglect or despise the small things waiting for the big ones that will never come along.

[The best is yet to come.]

The life I see is not all the life there is.  In fact, it’s not even the best life there is.  The best is yet to come when all this pain and sorrow and hurt will be redeemed.  My heart and my family will be restored.  My tears will be wiped away and I will stand in the glorious Presence of God and Christ forever.

[Love wins.]

I have a choice of what I allow to fill my broken heart.  I will not choose bitterness. Bitterness is buried with the heart that carries it.  But love lasts forever.  Its impact ripples through eternity.  It cannot be silenced or stopped.

 

love God love others rocks

Help! I Need Somebody!

So, almost twenty years on a farm and I can NOT back a trailer.  Nope.  Can’t do it.

One day I spent hours trying to teach myself how to do it.  Never was able to do anything other than manage to jackknife the trailer, go unhook it and start over.

So when I go somewhere with a trailer I do one of two things:  (1) I find a space where I can drive in and be able to just make a loop or (2) I find the nearest person who CAN back a trailer, hand them my keys and ask them to do it.

I feel NO shame.

But that’s not the case with other things I can’t do.  So many times I try to avoid admitting that I am unable to meet certain people’s expectations or do certain things that I either used to be able to do or feel I SHOULD be able to do.

I think the reason I don’t mind outing myself on trailers is because that confession usually gets a laugh or a knowing look from the person who helps me or an admission from someone standing near at the feed store that they also have trouble backing up a trailer.

But when I say, “I just don’t think I’m up to teaching VBS” or “I’d love to come to that event but I’ve reached my social quota this week” or “I’m still struggling with driving by that spot or eating at that restaurant” it’s often met with (at best) a quizzical look or (at worst) a comment about how I should be “better” by now.

And then I DO feel shamed.  I feel like I don’t measure up, like I’m not as valuable as the next person or that I have failed some cosmic test.

shame-is-the-intensely-painful-feeling-we-are-unloveable-brene-brown

You know what though?  That’s a reflection on other people’s lack of compassion and experience or their personal insecurity NOT a reflection of my worth.

It is really just fine for me to admit my limitations because EVERYONE has limitations.

I can’t lift a 250 lb barbell.  But I can whip up dinner for fifty people.  I can’t read Chinese but I can read Dr. Seuss with an accent and hit all the rhymes on cue.  I can’t run a marathon but I can work all day without complaining (most of the time).

I’m human (surprise!).    So are you.

brene brown vulnerablity sounds like truth

I have some limitations as a result of burying a child. You may have limitations because of age or disease or something else I don’t know about or can’t see.

That’s OK.

Let’s make a pact:  I’ll take you as you are and you can take me as I am.  I’ll help you when you need help and you can help me when I need help.

We will extend grace and receive grace as needed to make life work.

Isn’t that really the essence of human community?

brene brown we dont have to do it alone

Thankful for Support

My grandmother had two sisters who didn’t have any children.  

They were often tapped as babysitters when someone in the family needed to leave their kids home for an extended period of time.  And while my aunts meant well, and certainly were never hateful or cruel, there was a giant gap between what they THOUGHT they knew about children and what they ACTUALLY knew.

So many sentences began with, “If you were my child….”  But I wasn’t.  And the boundaries set between me and my parents had been hashed out through trial and error in real time in real life-not some hypothetical perfect world.

It’s like that in my grief journey as well.  

There have been many well-meaning but woefully uninformed people who offered advice.  Some of it was helpful but most of it was predicated on misinformation and lack of real-life experience.

The MOST helpful advice has come from fellow bereaved parents.

They share their hearts and their hopes, their failures and their victories, their fears and their faith.  They don’t have to-they could simply focus on their own pain and refuse to offer aid.  

But moms and dads a few steps ahead of me in the Valley turn back and hold out a hand and say, “This way.  I’m right here with you.  You can make it!”

And for that I am oh. so. thankful.

 

buckets to put out flames

Learning Limits

An exchange with a Facebook friend got me thinking.

How much of my struggle in life is a result of ignoring my own limits?

How much pain do I inflict on myself because I won’t admit I need help?  Why do I insist on living to the edge of endurance and emotional capacity?

Why, why, why do I try so hard to keep up a front of invincibility?

Pride.

Pride goads me like a whip.

Pride makes me say, “yes” when I should say, “no”.  Pride whispers the lie to my heart that I can be everything to everyone because I am “all that”.   Pride makes me believe I am the focus of others’ attention and conversation when they probably haven’t even noticed.

Foolish woman!

When I try to do too much, I am unable to do anything well.  When I spread myself too thin, I guarantee that I’ll crack under the pressure of keeping up appearances.

Truth is, I’m not fooling anyone.  And I’m not serving myself or others well.

you are never strong enough that you dont need help

I’m learning some lessons in this Valley and one of them is to try to accept my limits.  I need to be honest about how much I can and cannot do, what I can and cannot carry alone.

Admitting I am human is hardly a unique confession-it’s the plight of all who walk the earth.  When I do, I invite others to walk alongside and assist me in carrying the load.

Asking for help isn’t weakness, it’s strength.

cannot judge yourself for needing help

 

 

 

Repost: What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

This was one of the first posts I wrote.  It hadn’t been long since I was introduced to an online community of bereaved parents and began to see that I wasn’t the only one who had friends and family that misunderstood child loss.

I was spending a lot of time in my life trying to help others comprehend, just a little, what it felt like to bury a child.

Trying to give them a tiny taste of how this pain is so, so different than any other I had experienced.  Begging them to toss the popular ideas bandied around that grief followed “stages” and was “predictable”.

I re-share every so often because it seems to help, a little.  ❤

People say, “I can’t imagine.

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

It isn’t nostalgia for a time when things were different or better or you talked more: it’s a gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, knee-buckling, aching groan that lives inside you begging to be released.

Read the rest here:  What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

Five Practical Ways to Support a Grieving Parent

It’s oh, so hard to know what to do when you are watching a heart break.

You want to reach out and make it better, make the pain go away, make a difference.  But it seems like nothing you can do will matter much in the face of such a huge loss.

While it’s true that you cannot “fix”  the brokenness in a bereaved parent’s life, there are some very important and practical ways you can support them in their grief-especially as the weeks turn into months and then to years.

a little consideration eeyore

Here are five practical ways to support grieving parents:

  • Remember anniversaries and birthdays.  Take note of the date our child left this life, his or her birthday, the day of the funeral-trust me, you aren’t reminding us of anything-we cannot forget!  When someone else shares that they remember too it is so, so encouraging.  It means my child is not forgotten, that he still matters to another heart and that someone else recognizes that the world lost a treasure.

every day

  • Keep showing up.  Keep inviting me to lunch.  I may have turned you down a dozen times in the first few months, but that was because I just. couldn’t. do. it.  As my heart begins to comprehend my loss, compassionate companionship sounds more inviting.  I need to talk, but it may take me awhile before I am able to do it.  Please don’t give up-keep trying.

good friends

  • Text. message and send notes.  I won’t always answer them, but a word at just the right moment may be what I cling to for days in the stormy sea of grief.  If you don’t know what to write, use google to find quotes on grief and copy them out.  A word of caution: don’t send articles on “how to grieve” or offer advice on “how to get over the loss of a loved one”.  (Blogs, books, pages written by bereaved parents for bereaved parents are generally a safe choice.)

compassion greatest form of love

  • Share a memory or photo.  One of the most painful parts of missing a child is that there are no new memories.  But there are “new” memories out there-held in the hearts of others who knew my son.  Times they shared that I know nothing about and that give me a precious piece of him to hold close.  Share a photo if you can. Post it to my Facebook timeline, send it in a text or message so that I can save it. Even better, print it out and send me a hard copy.  These are treasures for a grieving parent.

carry your heart with me in my heart cummings

  • Listen and affirm.  I know my child’s death is “old news”.  Years have passed now and it may seem like something I shouldn’t talk about anymore.  But it is an ongoing event for me.  Every day I am dealing with another aspect of how his absence impacts my life and the lives of my family.  I need to share that.  If I keep it bottled up, I’ll explode.  I’m not sharing on social media because I want to be pitied.  I’m sharing because my son is still part of my life just like your living children are part of yours. So please don’t ignore me and hope I’ll “get over it” if you do.  Acknowledge posts, comment on stories shared and affirm that my child matters.

band-aid-and-heart

You may be surprised how often I get discouraged and feel alone.  

An outstretched hand at just the moment when my strength is fading makes all the difference.

helping-hands

 

Limping Along

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know I have rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s something I’ve been living with three times as long as the years I’ve lived without Dominic and I find strange parallels in the twin journey of chronic disease and chronic heartache.

Both are crippling in their own way, both force me to work around the pain.  Both have changed me in ways I could not have imagined and certainly wouldn’t have wished on myself or my family.

Both have taught me to endure.

Both have taught me many other things as well:  

I have learned to be more compassionate.  With pain as my constant companion, it reminds me this life is hard and that it’s hard for others too.

I have learned not to take a good day for granted.  I never know when I will wake to an RA flare, I am constantly surprised by random heavy grief days and I can’t tell when I go to bed at night what tomorrow will bring.  So when a day is good, I grab hold of every moment.  I laugh, I move, I do things that make my heart sing.  And I store the memory for days that aren’t so good.

I have learned to be gentle to myself.  I can only do what I can do.  And what I can’t do today will just have to wait for tomorrow-or maybe wait for forever-and that’s OK.

I have learned to say, “no” graciously, without making excuses.  I try very hard to live up to commitments so I am selective in taking on new ones.  I know that if I take on too many, I’m sure to have to let someone down in the end.  I can’t make others outside my disease or my grief understand so I’m learning to not try.  Their disappointment or disapproval is something they have to carry, not me. (I wrote more about this here:  No. It’s a Complete Sentence.)

I have learned to create “work arounds” for the things that I have to do but are very hard to do. For my RA that means unloading the dishwasher two plates at a time instead of lifting the whole stack at once.  For my grieving heart that means spreading out the hard things over a week instead of a few hours.  It means not feeling compelled to answer every message, phone call or text right away if my mind is unclear or my heart too heavy.

I’ve learned to wear what’s comfortable.  Whether that is shoes that accommodate my crooked toes or refusing to put on a “happy face” mask in public-I am who I am.  I certainly don’t mope around or try to draw attention to myself.  But I’m just not responsible for making other people feel comfortable with my disease or my grief.

I have learned to plan “rest stops” on my daily journey.  It may be a moment to sit down or a moment to do something creative or a moment to watch a funny video-but each thing is designed to help me recharge for the next few hours.  If I try to soldier on I end up too tired and emotionally spent to do anything.  One day of that and I may lose a whole week.  So I pace myself.

I have learned that appropriate medical intervention and treatment is not a crutch, it’s a pathway to a more productive life.  I resisted taking medication for my RA for a long time-the potential side effects are frightening.  But when the swelling, pain and joint deformity became too much to bear, I gave in.  I shouldn’t have waited so long.  It was foolish. I will never be free of the disease, but my life can be better with appropriate intervention.  It’s the same with grief.  Anti-depressants and anxiety medicine do not remove the pain of grief but they can make space in a heart and mind to do the work grief requires.  There is NO SHAME in using whatever tools are available to make it through.

I have learned to ask for help. There are a number of things I just can’t do alone.  I used to be able to do them.  But not anymore.  Asking for help is not defeat.  I have to remind myself of that.  At the end of the day what matters is that what matters gets done-I don’t get “extra credit” for struggling through alone.

I have learned to speak my truth.  (This is one I’m still working on!)  If I am having a bad pain day or a bad grief day, I don’t try to hide it.  I just tell those who ask and those closest to me the truth. The energy I have to expend to keep it covered up means less energy to work on the underlying factors contributing to the bad day.  It’s just NOT worth it.  And I’m not good at hiding it anyway.

I have learned that walking (literally or figuratively) with a limp is not a defect.  It’s simply my life.  I won’t apologize for it.  If someone asks, I’ll share.  But if not, I just go limping along, making my way forward.  I might be slow, but I’m moving.

And that’s what counts in the end.

I will walk with an emotional limp for the rest of my life … But I don’t want it to just remind me of the struggle and the pain; I want it to remind me of a place of surrender, a place where God met me and blessed me. Otherwise, it is just wasted pain.

~Nancy Guthrie, The One Year Book of Hope, p. 332