So What Can I DO? Show Up.

I absolutely understand how it feels to be frozen between “I want to DO something” and “I have no idea WHAT to do”.

It’s where most of us find ourselves when we hear of a loved one compelled to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

It seems pushy to force help on a fragile heart and yet it feels cowardly to stand by while that same heart struggles to complete all the tasks necessary surrounding death.

So what can a caring friend or family member do? Start by showing up.

I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane.  It was Robbie-our “adopted” son.  As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie.  Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help.  

I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.

And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little. 

Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!I was not going to walk this Valley alone. 

They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here.  I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.

Read the rest here: What Can I DO? Start by Showing Up.

Want Practical Ideas to Help Grieving Parents? Here Are 31 of Them.

When Dominic died, I didn’t get a manual on what to do.  I didn’t get an orientation into how to be a grieving parent.  So when some people asked how they could help me and my family, I really didn’t know.

A comment repeated often by bereaved parents is, “Please don’t use the phrase, ‘let me know if there is anything I can do’, people mean well, but this is unhelpful.”

Another mom put it this way, ” There are too many meanings to this phrase.  It can mean anywhere from, ‘I really want to help’ to ‘I don’t know what to say so I’ll say this but I don’t really want you to ask’.  Also it’s so hard to make any decisions–trying to figure out what you might want or be able to do is overwhelming.  Instead, offer specific things you can do and make plans to do them.”

For those that want to help, here is a list of 31 ways you can provide practical and timely help to grieving parents.

Read the rest here 31 Practical Ways to Love Grieving Parents in the First Few Days

How To Help In The First Days After Loss

It will be seven (!) years on April 12th.

And yet those first hours and days are some of the most vivid in my memory. Who showed up, what they did, what they said (or graciously and wisely DIDN’T say), how fragile and lost I felt as precious friends guided me through so. many. decisions.

I will never, ever forget the kindnesses shown to our family during that time. I will never, ever stop thanking God for the brave souls that entered into our world of pain and simply refused to be shooed or frightened away.

❤ Melanie

The death of any loved one opens a door and forces you to pass through.

You cannot procrastinate, cannot refuse, cannot ignore or pretend it away.

Suddenly, you find yourself where you absolutely do not want to be.  

And there is no going back.

Many bereaved parents describe the first hours, the first days after losing a child as a fog–we feel both horrified (I can’t believe this is happening!) and numb (Is this real? Am I dreaming?).

Read the rest here: Loving Well in the First Days After Loss

Loss: In The Words of Others

I’ve collected quotes all my life.

I think it was second grade when I started a notebook dedicated to them-carefully copying out the words of others that spoke the truths of my own heart. Although the topics which draw me are different now, I’m still collecting them.

So here are fifteen quotes on grief that I hope will help another heart:

Read the rest here: Grief: In The Words of Others

What SHOULD I Say and Do For My Grieving Friends or Family?

I have learned so much since that day when Dominic left us suddenly for Heaven.

Some of the things I know now are things I wish I didn’t know at all.

But some serve me well-not only in how I respond to my own pain and loss-but also how I respond to the pain and loss in the lives of those I love.

Read the rest here: So What SHOULD I Say or Do For My Grieving Friends or Family?

Empathy: Let Me Hold The Door For You

I remember struggling mightily to get four young children to church Sunday mornings.

At the time we attended a larger church that had a couple of parking lots-one near and one not-so-near the entrance.

Of course, I was never early enough to park very close to the doors so had to shepherd all four (while carrying the youngest in his car seat) across a small lane, up a hill and finally to the foyer.

What a blessed relief when some kind person opened that door for me as we approached!

It wasn’t much in the whole scheme of things.

It didn’t relieve my aching arms of the load I carried.

But it said, “I see you. I want to do the little bit I can to encourage you.”

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I have never forgotten those days.

Opening the door taught me that sometimes the smallest act of kindness is the difference between a heart giving up or hanging on.

I’ve had a lot of people “hold the door” for me on this journey of child loss.

Most of them have not walked in my shoes but they could see my soul was worn and I needed encouragement.

For that I will be eternally grateful.

T.H.I.N.K. Before You Speak, Post, Message or Meme

I first shared this post a couple years ago when social media turned really mean and family dinner tables were transformed from generational bonding experiences into hate-filled battlegrounds.

I am saddened that this crisis and upcoming election has once again made us forgetful that our words matter. How I express my opinion matters.

There are real people attached to our Twitter feeds, Facebook profiles and Instagram followers.

There may be some mamas that don’t drill this into their children but if there are, they don’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Every time there was back and forth in the back seat or on the front porch and Mama overheard, we were told, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Read the rest here: If You Can’t Say Anything Nice….

Marking The Milestones After Child Loss: 16 Ideas

I’ve found myself in a bit of a writing funk these past weeks. Once January draws to a close (a short reprieve from surviving the holidays) the calendar barrels on to the anniversary of that fateful day.

This will be the sixth time I’ve weathered that period where I mark all the “lasts” and try to honor Dominic’s life and not only focus on his death.

For someone who used to be able to draw up a gameplan for any occasion, I am still out of my depth when it comes to commemorating the date of my son leaving for Heaven.

So I’m sharing this again-as much for me as for anyone else. It’s just plain hard. But I hope these ideas help another heart find a way through the minefield of remembering.

❤ Melanie

When your child is born you take notes.

You plan to mark this day as a special milestone for the rest of your life.

You absolutely, positively NEVER think you will have to mark another one:  the day he or she leaves this life and leaves you behind.

But some parents have to mark both.  The dash in the middle is shorter than we anticipated, and our child’s life ends before ours.

grieving mother at grave

So how do you do it?  How in the world do you observe the polar opposite of a birthday?

Read the rest here: Child Loss: Marking the Milestones

How To Find What You’re Looking For-Practical Search Tips & Tricks

I get emails and messages and texts pretty often from folks who either follow me here or who look for each day’s post on Facebook or Twitter trying to locate a specific post.

Even I sometimes can’t find the one they are looking for.

So I’ve done a couple things recently that might help and wanted to share how to use them.

There’s always been a “word cloud” on the sidebar (if using a computer) or when you scroll down (on a phone). Those words represent the most-often used tags and you can just click on one to find posts on that subject.

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I added a “search” box about a year ago.

It can bring up more specific results if you remember a word or phrase that isn’t as common as those in the word cloud. Even part of the title of a post will almost always narrow it down to two or three choices. It won’t recognize dates, though, so for that I’ve done something different.

Now there is an “archive” section that links to each month’s posts since I started writing in this space. So if you are new to the blog and interested in a series of posts, you can click on the month and find them.

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Two other ways to find what you are looking for is to simply Google “thelifeididntchoose.com and [whatever topic or part of a title you want]” OR do the same in Facebook search.

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I even do that sometimes to get a more refined search since Google spends billions on their process and Facebook tends to prioritize friends’ posts and pages I look at most often. (Nope! Can’t remember all the posts myself. )

I am thinking about (when I have both the time and energy and mental space!) doing a series of posts that aggregate themes so that one post will automatically give readers five to ten options for exploring a topic. My goal is to have them done within a month or so.

I hope this helps folks find that one post (or two) that spoke to their heart but they didn’t save somewhere.

Please share your comments and experiences with me if you use any of these tools-I would love to know how well they work.

I want this space to be as user-friendly as possible.

~Melanie

World Suicide Prevention Day

I’m always torn between sharing about suicide awareness and just offering a listening ear to survivors of suicide.

On the one hand, I don’t want a single person who may be shouting warning signals to end up completing suicide because no one listened.

On the other, I want to protect bereaved parents and siblings from any additional guilt they may feel because they “missed” such signals.

But since suicide is at epidemic proportions in our country-especially among young people and veterans-I’m going to try to navigate the middle ground.

To anyone whose loved one left this life by suicide let me say this: You are not responsible! Even if in hindsight you feel like you missed cues or didn’t notice tell-tale signs, in the end it was their own action that led to death.

I do not believe suicide is selfish.

I believe suicide results from pain so unbearable a heart simply thinks there is no other way to end it. It’s not a conscious act as such, it’s a reflexive response to intense pain.

I also know that mental illness-often untreated because it is undiagnosed-wrecks havoc with the logical, reasoning part of a brain.

To those who may be contemplating suicide (something I know many, many bereaved parents think about) let me say this: If you are considering it, reach out.

You are a unique creation and cannot be replaced.

There are resources available and people not only willing, but LONGING, to help you hold onto hope.

As you fall deeper and deeper into the pit of despair, it’s easy to lose sight of the truth that darkness is not all that exists. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s nearly impossible of your own volition to will yourself out of the funk.

This is where suicide prevention has a role to play.

If someone seems “off”, don’t ignore it, dismiss it or excuse yourself from asking hard questions (even at the risk of being rebuffed or worse).

Often a single person extending a hand and listening ear at just the right moment grants space for a hurting heart to reconsider suicide as the only way out of pain. If they won’t respond in spite of your best efforts, enlist allies.

And walk gently among your fellow humans!

You may never know when your smile, opened door, random encouraging word or knowing glance is the difference between a stranger going home to end it all and going home and making a phone call to get help.

Suicide is tragic.

Be alert.

Be a friend.

Compassion is a choice.

Be the one who cares, calls and comforts.