You Are Not Alone

Grief is isolating.

Even in our immediate family, differing grief styles, personalities and gender can separate us from one another in our sorrow.

And out in the world, well-THAT separation is as long and tall as the Great Wall of China.

But I’m here to tell you that you are NOT alone.

I felt so very alone after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  I only knew a couple of bereaved parents and their losses were many, many years prior to mine so they were at a different place.  Although they reached out, I didn’t have the courage or words to access their wisdom.

I live in a very small community and though I expanded my search to the nearby larger cities, there were only two grief groups I could find and neither exclusive to child loss.

In addition, I wanted a group founded on and looking toward the promises of God in Christ.  I was already discouraged, disheartened and on the verge of hopelessness-I couldn’t bear to have that part of my experience reinforced without the counterbalance of hope in Jesus.

I read, read, read.

And those books helped so much.  But they still lacked the give and take I needed.  I longed for a safe space to share my heart and have others share theirs.  I wanted to be able to ask questions and hear how other bereaved parents handled similar feelings, fears and situations.

I needed community.

It was 17 long months before I found it through While We’re Waiting support group for bereaved parents.

What a breath of fresh air!

Even though the closed group is peopled by broken hearts there is understanding and compassion and HOPE.  Those further along in this journey speak courage to the hearts freshly shattered.  Tender, vulnerable moms and dads know that HERE they are SAFE.

Last week I attended and spoke at the Through This Valley conference for bereaved parents held near the While We’re Waiting Refuge.

I got to meet some of the very special people who have helped me on this journey.  It was a preview of Heaven-hearts united in love for one another and love for our Savior.

Lots and lots of tears.  But lots and lots of hugs.  Lots and lots of sorrow over missing our children.  But lots and lots of joyful anticipation that we WILL be reunited.

You are NOT alone, dear heart.

There is a community of parents waiting to embrace you.

None of us would have chosen this painful path yet we choose to walk together on it.

Come, join hands with others who will speak courage to your heart.

while were waiting

Being There: No Substitute For Showing Up

I totally get itwe are ALL so busy.

Calendars crammed weeks and months in advance and no white space left over to pencil in lunch with a friend even though we desperately NEED it.

It seems impossible to make that call, write that note or stop by and visit a few minutes.

How can I meet my obligations if I use precious time doing the optional?

But when the unexpected, unimaginable and awful happens, suddenly that calendar and all those appointments don’t matter.  Balls drop everywhere and I don’t care.

Because when your family or best friend needs you, you come-no questions asked.

You toss a few necessities in your carry-on, lock the door, unplug the coffee pot and RUN.

You connect that phone to the car charger and dial away as you drive down the road.

And you show up.

Because when someone needs you, REALLY needs you, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for presence.

And the world keeps spinning.

All those “important” commitments cluttering my calendar are still there.  But a few phone calls later and they are easily rearranged. Medicine refills can be sent almost anywhere.  Church responsibilities can be shouldered by someone else.  Social dates can be rescheduled.

The only thing that matters is being exactly where your heart tells you it needs to be for exactly as long as you need to be there.

But you don’t have to wait until it’s an emergency to show up.

If it can wait if it HAD to, then it can wait.

You will not be going over a “to do” list with your last breath.

Choose to make people a priority right now-you might not get a second chance,

cant change the beginning but can change the ending

 

 

 

NOBODY Does it Alone

Even if you think you are the Lone Ranger-riding the hills and vanquishing enemies all by yourself, you aren’t.  Heck, HE wasn’t alone either (thus my confusion over his name).

Lone_ranger_silver_1965

Every single one of us has people in the background making life as we know it possible.

And when life as we know it takes a sudden left turn, all those “invisible” people become oh, so important.

It happened when Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  The eleven days between the knock on the door and his funeral were filled with friends, family and even strangers who came by, brought meals, cleaned my house, made phone calls, and did all the things I just. couldn’t. do.

These last weeks have been the hardest season since Dom left us.  When I got the phone call Mama was being life-flighted my heart dropped to the floor.  Having been there once before, I was not at all ready to revisit the awful pain of loss.

So I gathered what I needed, made a few phone calls of my own and my children and I raced down to be with her and my father.

Thankfully, the ending to THIS story, though hard, isn’t tragic.

After the first eleven days in hospital and only a few at home before a second hospital admission, Mama is back at home getting stronger.

mama and me at beauty shop

Things are different.  Changes are required. 

But she is smiling and beautiful.  Still with us. 

Hallelujah!

But in order for me to stay with my folks for 27 of the past 31 days I have had to call on and depend on the help of others.

For me to leave MY responsibilities at home, someone else had to pick them up.  Horses and goats and dogs and chickens don’t feed themselves.  The church deposit has to be made each week.

My husband has graciously accepted that our communication is limited and sporadic.  What used to be long phone calls every day turned into short bursts and quick texts that let him know I was OK and still breathing.

My youngest son, Julian, laid aside his own project of remodeling his first home to pick up all the things I normally do around the farm-no complaints and no questions asked.  He is patient with me when my tired brain can’t think of words while trying to give him yet another chore that needs done.

My daughter, Fiona, finishing a tough last semester in RN school, as well as working and putting in required clinical hours, has called to check on me and her grandmother, offered excellent medical tips and helped me ask for the things we need for Mama.  She shoots me funny memes and encouraging texts that provide laughs to boost my immune system and bolster my courage.

My eldest son, James Michael, has squeezed in a weekend visit to my parents’ house in between helping his AF base recover from Hurricane Irma and a hundred other responsibilities as the Public Health Officer for a large command.  He drove the tractor and helped bale hay.  He brought flowers for Mama and BBQ ribs and sweet tea for me. 

My friends at church have graciously given me space and taken up slack so that I didn’t have to worry about my duties as treasurer.  No pressure and no tacky comments-only love and understanding from folks who KNOW how important family is.

My very special friend, Laura, sent me back from my brief three day stint at home a couple weeks ago with helpful herbal tinctures to brace my body for stress and hard work.  And she always listens without trying to fix me.

Dominic’s example as a strong advocate gave me the backbone to stand and insist that Mama get the care she needed when in hospital and at home.  I could hear him say, “Don’t let them get by with that!” to my often trembling heart.

And many, many of my parents’ friends and our extended family have phoned, sent notes and stopped by to encourage my heart and theirs.

People keep saying, “You are doing a good thing for your parents”.

I appreciate that.  But I want them to know that I am not doing it alone.  It goes back in a long chain to those who choose to take up the slack I leave behind when I drive out my lane.

I would not be free to help if others didn’t choose to help ME be free.

So I want to give a loud and public shout out to each one that has done this hard and necessary work in the shadows.

You are amazing.

I love you.

heart stone

 

Bereavement: How Other People Can Help

I ran across this infographic awhile ago and LOVE how it puts things in an easy to see and easy to follow format.

It’s a great tool-not only for those grieving the loss of a loved onebut for anyone going through a rough patch.  

bereavement how others can help graphic

It’s Never Too Late to be a Friend!

We’ve all been there-something traumatic or earth-shattering happens to someone we know and we mean to get in touch.  

I put “write a note” or “call” on my list and then don’t do it.

Days, weeks months pass by.  Now I feel awkward.

And the need to let her know I care is overshadowed by my sense of shame at not doing it sooner.

But it is NEVER too late to be a friend!

friends hugging

I won’t let pride stand between me and someone I love.  I won’t allow fear to keep me away from a heart that needs help.

nothing on earth to be more prized than friendship

Who knows?

Maybe my outstretched hand will be exactly the hope someone needs to hold on to?

no act of kindness kitten

 

 

 

 

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Shake Off the Shame

Shame is a shackle as sure as any chains forged from iron.  

And it often finds its home in the hearts of those who bury a child.

Bereaved parents may feel shame for lots of reasons:

Read the rest here:  Shake Off the Shame

Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

“Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?  How do you take into account the circumstances of a death, the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, trauma surrounding the event or any of a dozen other things that influence how long and how deeply one grieves a loss?

Obviously there are certain signs that someone needs professional help, medication or intervention.  If a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, acting out in ways that harm or threaten harm to themselves or others, or is experiencing depression or uncontrollable anxiety then please, please, PLEASE get them to a doctor who can diagnose and treat them.

But for the rest of us, “normal” grief covers a wide variety of behaviors, feelings, attitudes and timelines:

Posting photos or videos of our missing child is normal.  It’s the last visual link we have to someone we can no longer see.

Mentioning my son in conversation is normal.  I mention my other children and his life is still intertwined with ours.

Crying-even years or decades after the loss-is NORMAL  Grief waves can hit with tsunami force from out of nowhere and slam me to the ground. The only thing I can do then is let them wash over and around me until they pass.

Keeping space for my son in my home, at my table, in my heart and on holidays is normal.  Some parents do this with a special candle, photo or ritual. Some do it with a stuffed animal or other item that represents their child. Some do it with words or deeds of kindness done in honor of the missing one.  No one has sat in Dominic’s space at my table in these three years.  It’s my silent witness to his ongoing influence and irreplaceable presence in our family circle.

Keeping a room exactly as it was is normal.  Boxing everything up is also normal.  Every heart is different and every heart has to decide what helps it heal.

Sleeplessness is normal.  Some parents never return to pre-loss sleep patterns.  I wake every morning at about the time the deputy came to our door.  Every now and then, if I am extremely tired, I may fall back asleep for an hour or two.  Sleeping the day away is normal, too.  Sleep may be a welcome relief to a weary heart and some parents find that when they can, they sleep a lot.  (Note:  if this continues for days or weeks, please check with your doctor about the possibility of depression.)

Anxiety is, sadly, VERY normal.  The worst has actually happened and that makes the possibility that it could happen again oh, so real.  Anxiety may well spread to things that seem to have no relationship to loss.  It’s also normal to have a “devil may care” attitude. The worst has actually happened, so what could be worse?  Might as well live life to the full.

Withdrawal is normal.  So is over-scheduling and staying busy.  Both are ways someone may try to deal with heartbreak.

You don’t have to be “stuck” in grief to still feel the pain and have it continue to affect your life.

I am and have been highly functional since the morning the deputy arrived with the news of my son’s fatal motorcycle accident.

But I am a very different “me” than I was before that doorbell rang.

Some things I can’t do anymore. Some things I do differently and some things are brand new and I have only done them since he left us.

Labels are rarely helpful when applied to people.

Every person is unique, every relationship unique and every situation unique.

And every grief journey will be unique as well.

roller coaster 2 better image