Lessons Learned

I don’t believe for one minute that child loss is a test or curriculum or punishment.  

But I  do believe there are things I can learn from it. 

I absolutely believe there are things I HAVE learned and am learning in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.

What are some of those lessons?

I know life is hard.  Not just for me or for those who suffer my particular tragedy or difficulty.  Life is hard for everyone.  If I can’t see the burden someone is carrying, that’s either because they are good at hiding it or I’m not looking closely enough.

I know many things remain broken for a lifetime.  They simply can’t be fixed, put back together or patched up to even resemble what they used to look like.  And there’s no shame in that.  Brokenness is not failure.  For most of us, the brokenness is a result of what has happened TO us, not choices we made ourselves.  For those whose brokenness is magnified by poor choices,  it’s no less devastating.

I know people give up on you.  Some folks simply cannot bear to see another person’s pain so they leave.  Others are too self-absorbed to make room for long term compassionate companionship.  A few turn away, disgusted because they are convinced it can’t happen to them and if it did, they’d handle it so. much. better.

I know people stand by you.  If you had asked me to write a list of the ten people (outside my family) that would still be walking with me over four years later, I’d have only gotten two of them right.  People I would never have imagined have stepped up and stepped in and refused to run away no matter how ugly it gets.  They are gifts from God and I treasure them.

I know that time is not on our side.  We think that tomorrow is the perfect day for sending the card, writing the note, making the phone call.  But tomorrow may not come-not for me or for the person that means so much to my heart.  Bless today.  Give today.  Be present.  Today.

I know that, for me, my faith has been shaken but not destroyed.  I have dragged out every single thing I believe and held it up to the glaring light of child loss.  It burned away the superfluous, decorative and/or foolish things but has left the rock-solid foundation of my faith intact.  I am as convinced today as ever that God will redeem, restore and resurrect what the enemy has stolen.  I am not forsaken.

I know that love lives.  I never imagined I would have to love a child of mine from earth while he or she was already in Heaven, but I do.  And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether I have his physical companionship because all the love I’ve ever felt is still there.  I miss him like crazy.  I can’t wait until we are together.  I hate our broken family circle.  But the circle of love we weave in and out through our hearts and our stories cannot be broken.  It is eternal.

I’ve learned that I can hold out and hold on. 

I can keep moving forward even with a limp or at a snail’s pace. 

I’ve learned that if I lean in and latch on to love, life can still have beauty and purpose. 

learned a lot this year deer

Keeping Short Accounts: What I’m Learning From My Son’s Sudden Death

This Sunday morning I had to extend and ask for forgiveness all within fifteen minutes.  

One person said something that unintentionally hurt my heart (he had no idea that what he said plunged a knife in it) and then I overstepped in making an event public before making sure it was definitely on the calendar.

It could have meant I walked away offended and upset. 

But I didn’t.  

Instead I was honest with the person who upset me about what he said and why it hurt.  He apologized immediately and I was quick to accept it.  And when I realized I had offended the other person, I asked for her forgiveness and she granted it too.

I find it’s easier for me to do both- ask for and extend forgiveness-this side of child loss for lots of reasons.  

First, I’m learning that I just don’t have the energy to maintain an offense. 

Offenses are like very fragile hot house plants-they need lots of tending, protection from the elements and so much time.  I used to be good at keeping an offense healthy and vibrant.  I would feed it often and refuse to subject it to the harsh winds of real life where it could be shown for what it was-not worth the energy or effort!

It’s so much easier to wipe the slate clean and begin again.  

Second, I’m learning that since grief wears me down in so many ways, I don’t have the resources to maintain my own mask, keep up my own pretense of always being in a good mood, smiling and having the right words to say.  So I make mistakes, step on toes and feelings with a fair degree of regularity and NEED forgiveness often myself.

I can hardly expect others to extend to me what I withhold from them!

Third,  I’m learning that the only thing worse than finding out someone I care about is beyond reach is hearing that news knowing I never made things right when it was within my power to do so.  

When you’re expecting your healthy, vibrant, youthful son to pop over on Saturday morning but instead get a knock on the door before sunrise, it changes everything.

Sometimes I don’t heed my own advice.

But when I’m paying attention, listening to my heart and really present, I work hard to keep short accounts with those I love and even those I don’t.  

Paul wrote: 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

~Romans 13:8

I don’t want to leave this world owing anybody anything except love.  

Love is never satisfied because hearts always need more.

And I am glad to pay it.

If we really want to love must leran to forgive

A High Price to Pay

I have learned a lot in these four years since Dominic ran ahead ahead to heaven.

But what a price to pay for wisdom!

It’s certainly not one I’d have agreed to up front.

Yet, here I am, older and oh, so much wiser, than I would have been if I had not buried a child.

Sometimes I resent that I wasn’t given the choice.  I would trade any wisdom, no matter how beautiful and valuable for the life of my  son.

No contest.

But since I cannot have him back, I’m trying hard to pay attention to the lessons grief is teaching me.  I try to embrace the insights sorrow is showing my heart.  I will not treat lightly any wisdom I may find in this Valley.  I won’t dishonor my son’s life by making little of the things his death has revealed to  me.

And I will not stay silent.

I will shout from the rooftops, from the hillsides, from any bit of altitude I can gain that the most important thing in life is love.

Love of God.

Love of people.

Nothing else really matters.

love God love others rocks

Everything else can be bought and sold.

But love cannot be traded for money-it is priceless, eternal and immortal.

Our bodies don’t last forever, but love does.  

Our hopes may be dashed, but love lives.

Our breath may be exhausted, but love never runs out.

the answer is still and again love

What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.  

In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”

It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group.  After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.

But, oh, when I did! What relief!  What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!

me too sharing the path

I have learned so much from these precious people.  

Here’s a few of the nuggets of wisdom I carry like treasure in my heart:  

Everyone has a story.  No one comes to tragedy a blank slate.  They have a life that informs how or if they are able to cope with this new and terrible burden.  Not everyone has the same resources I do-emotional, spiritual or otherwise.  Don’t put expectations on someone based on my own background.  Be gracious-always.  

Everyone deserves to be heard.  Some folks really only have one or two things that they insist on saying over and over and over again.  That’s OK.  If they are saying them, it’s because they need to be heard.  Lots of folks do not have a safe space to speak their heart.  But it’s only in speaking aloud the things inside that we can begin to deal with them.

Everyone (or almost everyone) is worried that they aren’t doing this “right”.  Society brings so much pressure to bear on the grieving.  “Get better”, “Get over it”, “Move on”.  And when we can’t, we think there is something dreadfully wrong with us.  But there isn’t.  Grief is hard and takes time no matter what the source.  But it is harder and takes a lifetime when it’s your child.  Out of order death is devastating.  “Normal” is anything that keeps a body going and a mind engaged in reality without being destructive to oneself or others.

Everyone can be nicer than they think they can.  Here’s the deal:  I THINK a lot of things.  I don’t have to SAY (or write!) them.  I’ll be honest, sometimes my first response to what someone shares is not very nice.  But when I take a breath and consider what might help a heart instead of hurt one, I can usually find a way to speak truth but also courage.  Snark is never helpful.  If I can’t say anything nice, then I just scroll on by.

Everyone has something to give.  I’ve learned that even the most broken, the most unlovely, the least well-spoken persons have something to offer.  It may take a little dusting off to find the beauty underneath, but my heart is stretched when I take time and put forth effort to truly listen to what’s being said instead of just ignoring it because of how it’s said.

Everyone deserves grace.  Because I am the recipient of grace, it is mine to give-without fear of running out-to every other heart I meet.  Sometimes I forget this.  I want to apply a different measure to others than I want applied to me.  But grace is the oil that greases human relationships.  Freely given and freely received, it provides a safe space for hearts to experience healing.

Everyone is standing on level ground when we gather at the foot of the cross.  There’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom.  We are all servants.  I am responsible to my Master for walking in love and doing the good works He has prepared beforehand for me to do.  My works are not your works and your works are not my works.  I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on others always trying to see if I(or they!) “measure up”.  The standard is our Shepherd and only grace and mercy can help me strive for that goal.

Everyone needs courage.  When Jesus gave His charge to the disciples He told them it was “better for you that I go”What??? How could that be better?  But it WAS.  Because when Jesus returned to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit as the personal, indwelt connection to Himself.  He knew they would need courage to make it through. The Spirit calls courage to our hearts.  And we are given the privilege of calling courage to one another.  The bravest among us quivers sometimes.  You’d be surprised how often one word is the difference between letting go and holding on.

There are dozens more things I could share.

I have met some of the kindest, wisest and most grace-filled people this side of child loss.

They have been the purest example of the Body of Christ I’ve ever known.  

I am thankful for what they are teaching me.

heart hands and sunset

Flying Lessons

My dad is a pilot and flight instructor.  

He’s flown everything from a single engine private plane to a fighter jet in all kinds of weather-good and bad.

When I was a little girl, he’d take me with him sometimes while he gave a flight lesson.  If he was teaching instrument flying, the student would wear a hood that restricted his vision to just the plane’s instrument panel.

No external visual cues allowed.

student pilot instrument hood

The test came when the student’s senses told him something different than the instruments were telling him-would he give in to what he thought was true but couldn’t validate OR would he rely on the trusty instruments that had proven faithful?

Some students just could not let go of their feelings and never did gain their instrument flight rating.

airplane-instrument-training

Some learned (even when it went against everything they were feeling) to lean on the absolutely reliable instruments to guide them safely to their destination.

These years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven feel like instrument flying.

clouds

I’m in the clouds.

The landmarks I’ve used for navigation all my life are obscured and sometimes I can’t even tell if I’m upside down or right side up. I don’t know if I’m going fast enough to stay in the air or if I’m about to stall.  I’m tempted to use my feelings to determine true north and to decide on a course of action.

But I know if I do, I’m likely to crash.

If I ignore the trustworthy and unchangeable truth of God’s Word, I will find myself headed exactly opposite of where I want to go.

If I refuse to listen to good counsel-people I can trust and who are in a position to see my blind spots-then I cannot correct my path.

When a student decided not to pay attention to the instruments, my dad was right there to take over and get them safely back on the ground.  

But for this flight I’m on my own.  If I decide to trust my untrustworthy feelings, there’s no one to rescue me.  

I have to make a choice.  

I have to learn to acknowledge but not trust the feelings that would send me spiraling downward and reach for the truth that can help me steady my flight.

I have got to plot my course based on absolute, reliable Truth.  

The pilots that learn to fly in heavy clouds often still feel frightened.  They sometimes still feel confused and disoriented.

But they have learned that it’s possible to feel those things and not act on them. 

I am learning that too. 

hold-the-truth