Feel and Deal to Heal

If I touch a hot stove my hand jerks away almost before my mind registers the searing pain.  It’s reflex.  Our bodies were designed to react to and protect us from things that cause pain.

Run away.  Don’t go back.  Set up barricades and warning signs so that others can be protected.

Most of the time, this reaction serves us well.

But sometimes those reflexes keep us from healing.

Anyone who’s had major surgery knows that when the nurses come in the next morning saying, “We’re going to get you out of bed today!”, the last thing you want to do is swing your legs over and stand up.  It HURTS!

We want to avoid what hurts, not embrace it.

So it’s no surprise that when we suffer deep emotional wounds, our first response is to try to run away or bury them or ignore them.  The last thing we want to do is face them.

But if I am to heal, I have to face them.  I have to take hold of each place where the dagger of grief and sorrow and regret and anger has pierced my heart and examine it closely.  I have to decide what to do with it, how to integrate it into my life after loss.

Grief is work!  That is one of the reasons grievers need solitude as well as companionship on this journey.  And that is why grief can’t be hurried along.  It takes a great deal of time to do the work grief requires.

If instead of facing our pain, we try to run away or distract ourselves or numb ourselves with alcohol, food or drugs, we only prolong the process.  Grief will not be ignored forever.

healing doesnt mean damage never existed

We must FEEL what we need to feel.

Then we must DEAL with those feelings-it might mean seeking a professional counselor or a trusted friend.  Online or in-person grief support groups are a wonderful resource. Journaling can help too.  But we have got to acknowledge and work through these feelings.

And then we can begin to HEAL  Hearts that have embraced and made some sense of grief can begin to beat again.  They can begin to love again and feel joy again.  They can learn to carry both sorrow and happiness-to remember and honor the missing child while also honoring and loving family and friends still here.

It’s not a “once and done” exercise.

I have repeated these steps over and over in the nearly three and a half years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  New feelings show up at the door of my heart and I have to choose to feel them, to search for what they mean and why they are here and then allow them to be woven into the fabric of who I am NOW-this side of child loss.

It takes courage and stamina and determination, but it is the only way forward.  

owning-our-story-and-loving-ourselves-through-the-process

 

 

No Mirrors, Please!

I hate mirrors.  Not because I’m ashamed of my wrinkles or my fat hips.  But because the face staring back at me now is not one I recognize.

I see someone who’s supposed to be me and can’t quite place her.

There’s a vague resemblance to the person that used to look me in the eye while I was brushing my teeth or fixing my hair.

But now, she is “other”, unfamiliar, strange in a “slightly off” kind of way.

I often laugh and smile but I’m rarely in front of a reflective surface when giggles animate my face and redraw it in the old, familiar outline.

My resting face looks old and sad and tired.

The eyes that used to be clear are clouded.  The mouth that more often than not was turned up in at least a hint of a smile is, at best, a straight line and, at worst, a frown. Deep lines show that I spend most of my days squinting, as if I’m searching the distant horizon for a glimpse of something that SHOULD be there but is just out of sight.

I can’t erase what grief has etched in flesh.

So I try not to look.

heart and wood

 

Tomorrow, Tomorrow

It took me nearly two years to hang a wall calendar again.  It took that long, plus some, to add anything to it besides close family birthdays and doctor’s appointments.

I would record what I did AFTER the fact, but I just couldn’t let my heart make plans.

Because I had made planslots and lots of plans-before Dominic ran ahead to heaven unexpectedly and wrecked them all.

There’s another reason looking forward is hard on my heart:

No matter how wonderful the event, no matter how anticipated the birth, or wedding, or graduation, or party-there will always, always, always be one person missing.

I still find making plans difficult.  

I don’t make many and the ones I do make I hold lightly.  I warn friends that I may get up the “morning of” and decide that I just cannot do it.  The closest ones (the only ones I really have left) totally understand and never pressure me otherwise.

But as I have rounded the corner of three years, I am beginning to be able to look a little bit further in the distance.  

I am able to pencil in some fun things more than a week in advance.  I’ve even started looking up ideas on Pinterest again-ideas for birthday gifts months in advance, for dinner table decorations and for craft projects to occupy the hottest parts of summer days.

And I’m learning to take Dominic WITH me as I walk into tomorrow after tomorrow without his physical presence.  I’m finding ways to keep him close, to have him near, to share him with others so that the vibrant man he was (and still IS-in heaven) is remembered and honored.

The fact is that tomorrow comes whether I am dragged kicking and screaming into the new day or whether I go willingly, with purpose and with grace.

I am trying to choose purpose and grace.

Sometimes it’s really, really hard.

But when I do-it’s worth it.

sometimes helps me wake up brene brown

 

Manifesto of the Brave & Brokenhearted~by Brene Brown

I am thankful for Brene Brown.

She has helped me put words to my feelings, helped me see a way forward when I felt there was none and helped me own my story even though it is hard.

I keep her quotes around to encourage my heart and remind me that I am brave.

This is one of my favorites:

manifesto of the brave and brokenhearted

Just Plain Hard

Today is full of tears.

No real reason-other than the obvious one-but so many things coming together to remind me this life is hard, hard, hard.

I find on this side of burying Dominic that when two or three other stressful events pile one atop the other I crumble.  Sometimes it’s other family members  doing the best they can to muddle through and sometimes it’s physical pain or disappointment or the random “ya-ya” stuff of life in community with other people  Whatever it is, the weight-in addition to grief-just absolutely overwhelms me.

I used to be stronger.  

Or at least I thought I was stronger.  But maybe the truth was the burden I was carrying wasn’t nearly as heavy as I thought it was and I just didn’t have anything to compare it to.

Now I do.

And I am oh, so weary!  I want to curl up in a ball and wish for it all to be over. I want to hide in a hole and hope the world passes me by.  I want to wait out my years unnoticed and unchallenged and pass peacefully to eternal rest and the joyful fullness of what has been promised.

Not an option.

So I hang in and hold on.  I cling to hope and I climb the mountain.  I crawl when I can’t walk. I beg for mercy when my mind grows dark and all I see is the long years stretching before me like a prison sentence.

And I cry.

I let the tears roll down my cheeks and fall into the corners of my mouth.  I taste their salty sweetness and let them remind me that Dominic matters. That even when other folks have forgotten and moved on, he’s still part of my every day. My heart is still in pieces. My family circle has been torn apart.

Some days I can push it down and forget a little.  But today I can’t.

It’s just plain hard.

 

 

 

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

True That

In a family full of  young adults on the brink of life, of love, of making dreams come true, you never expect to hear these words, “It is what it is.”

But in a home where loss has taken its toll, I do.

Oh, how I long to restore the unmarred joy we used to know-when everything was possible, positive attitudes could overcome any challenge and the horizon beckoned with welcome instead of warning.

Our watchword used to be “Failure is not an option”.

failure-is-not-an-option

I even had a cute little magnet on the fridge that proclaimed, “Another day, another disaster”.

That was BEFORE.

Before the dawning sun brought real disaster to our doorstep.  Before the thing we had to face could not be overcome by more elbow grease, greater resolve or stronger faith.

Before death became very, very real to us.

We are not struck down in despair.  

We are not fatalists.  

But we do acknowledge the fact that this life is filled with things we cannot change.  We understand by experience that some things must simply be endured.  We embrace the truth that we depend on the mercy of God in every way.

So now we live this motto:  It is what it is.

ljs-228

And we take one another’s hand and walk on, through whatever it is.  We call courage to our hearts that no matter what happens, we will survive together.  

We keep loving and living and leaning.

Because that’s what we do.