This incident happened awhile ago but it still rankles me.
I’m not one to insist we need to self-censor everything we say or share because it *might* offend someone else. That’s just exhausting!
But…BUT…when someone makes me aware that I’m adding to their burden with my words I’m quick to shut up.
Laying down idle conversation is a small price to pay to love a friend well.
I had a very uncomfortable exchange with someone at church Wednesday night.
We have a light potluck dinner each Wednesday before Bible Study and I’m on kitchen duty. So I was uncovering dishes, adding spoons and getting things ready when conversation erupted around me about a “horrible wreck just up the road.”
I kept silent and tried to focus on the plastic wrap and aluminum foil but couldn’t help hearing the animated relaying of detail after detail until it reached a crescendo ending in someone declaring that, “Well, those people just drive too fast. They don’t even care about themselves.”
I’m pretty sure that every single grieving parent I know has gotten at least one private message, text or phone call that starts like this, “I know that I haven’t lost a child, but…” and ends with some sort of advice that seeks to correct a perceived flaw in how the parent is grieving (in public) his or her missing child.
It seems to be the nature of humans to listen with an ear to respond rather than an ear to hear.
I’ve done it myself.
Jumped right in with all kinds of suggestions designed to “fix” someone else’s problem.
Or worse, heaped my own experience with something more or less (often less) similar onto an already overburdened heart.
I hate that tendency in myself and I’m working hard to try to change it.
Those who feel compelled to just say SOMETHING often bombard grievers with platitudes, comparisons to their own grief or just empty, frivolous words that require we either stand there dumbfounded or find a gracious way to exit the conversation.
It’s especially painful for a broken heart when a well-meaning someone decides THIS is the moment for a theology lesson.
“God has something planned for you in this” or “God will use this for good”. (Romans 8:28-29)
“We don’t grieve as those without hope!” ( I Thessalonians 4:13)
“All our days are numbered.” (Psalm 139:16)
I get it-death is a heavy subject and the death of a child isn’t something anyone wants to talk about, contemplate or be forced to wrestle with. So it’s often easier to simply say something-anything-do your duty and walk away.
But it is hardly helpful.
Deep grief as a result of unbearable loss is not a teaching moment.
It’s an opportunity to listen well, think carefully about if or when you need to say anything and simply offer compassionate companionship to a broken heart.
Grieving felt hardly like the time for being taught, at least initially. Early grief was my time for pulling out of my past those truths that I had already learned — out of my ‘basement — so that I could begin to assemble them together into something even more meaningful to me than before. It was the time for understanding that even though I had always believed in heaven, it now looked to my perceptions to be more real than this world. It was the time when, even though I already believed in God’s control of the world, I now felt dependent upon him being sovereign over it for all my hopes. It was the time for realizing that even though I already believed that Christ conquered death, I now longed to see death die.
I have so much more empathy for older folks since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I’ve always tried to be a patient listener when hearing that same story over and over and over but have to admit that sometimes I’d drift off or internally mock an elder because I was tired of hearing it.
Because I understand now that it’s in the telling that one both commemorates and honors people as well as the past.
Stories are how we weave facts into narrative and give them meaning. It’s why so many of us love historical fiction or period dramas that not only reference actual people and events but also peek at emotions, motivation and draw conclusions.
I could hand you my daily calendar and you’d understand the outline of where I was and what I did.
But you wouldn’t know what I thought or felt that day unless I filled it in.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I was forced at first to deliver the most basic message to others who needed to know. I repeated it over and over, “I have to tell you something awful. Dominic is dead.”
I didn’t really know much more than that.
Details were added by friends and first responders in the days to come.
The story broadened to include how we reassembled our family from across the country, who showed up to help us through the first hours, where we chose to bury him, what the funeral service looked like and on and on and on.
For months afterward I found myself compelled to repeat the story of those days.
Compelled to rewind and play again the details, each time teasing out additional insights, questions and feelings.
It was an important part of unspooling and exploring what, exactly, it meant to live in a world that no longer included one of my children.
I know sometimes folks get tired of me telling the story. For them, it is a reminder of some awful event that is tucked neatly in the past. A date on a calendar somewhere that might occasionally tickle the back of their brain and evoke a, “that’s so sad” response but not something they live with every. single. day.
But for me, Dominic’s death is an ongoing experience.
Every day I have to fit his absence into my world. I have to find a way to live around the giant void where heSHOULDbe butISN’T.
So the story grows.
It’s not only what happened on the day he left, it’s what has happened since and is still happening now.
When you make space for me to tell, you make space for me to feel.
Four years ago today I shared my first post in this space.
It was a timid foray into the wider world just a year and a half after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I was truly frightened that once I began sharing my intimate thoughts, good (and not-so-good) experiences and things I was learning in this Valley of the Shadow of Death I would either (1) find out no one really cared and/or (2) offend friends and family.
But what motivated me to overcome that fear was a sense that for all the information out there on grief in general, I couldn’t find nearly enough first-person experience written in bite-sized chunks on child loss in particular.
After Dom ran ahead, it was difficult for me to sit down and read a whole book. I needed bits I could read on a single computer screen.
I also needed someone to be upfront and honest about what it meant to continue to cling to faith even when it was hard and even when it meant acknowledging doubts and living with unanswered questions.
It’s difficult to believe now with the plethora of popular books (both secular and religious) on “open broken” but four and five years ago, there weren’t many around.
So I decided I’d just say what I had to say and let it fall on the ears that might need to hear it regardless of who didn’t like it or chose to ignore it.
And here we are four years later.
I don’t know how long I’ll keep writing-probably as long as I feel like I have something to say, people are listening and my fingers can still tap-tap-tap the keyboard.
For now, writing is what I do.
Even when life interrupts almost everything else I will find a few moments to jot down thoughts and hit “publish”. I know some posts are much thinner than others-maybe just a meme or two and an encouraging word. But I want to show up in case THIS morning someone’s having an especially rotten one.
I want you to know that there IS life after child loss.
A very different life.
A harder life.
A life you didn’t want and wouldn’t ever choose, but life nonetheless.
And I appreciate every. single. heart. who joins me here and cheers me (and others!) along.
We’ve all done it-pretended to be looking somewhere else when we pass a needy soul.
Who has time to get involved?
They might be an addict or have a contagious disease or mental illness. They might be too lazy to work, too unpredictable to trust, too likely to be here next week and need something again. It might cost more than the five dollars we’re willing to hand out.
So we walk on by and hope they don’t force the issue by standing in our way.
But God never ignores a hurting heart.
He never redirects His gaze so it doesn’t fall on the one begging for mercy.
He does not ·ignore [despise or disdain] ·those in trouble [L the suffering of the afflicted]. He doesn’t hide his face from them but listens when they ·call out to him [cry to him for help].
Psalm 22:24 EXB
How amazing that the God of the universe, the One who hung the stars in the sky and told the sea, “This far and no farther!” hears me when I cry out to Him for help!
And not only does He hear me, He longs to comfort me with His love.
He does not despise my weakness or look down His nose because I’m unable to solve my own problems or help myself.
Even when others ignore me or try to make my pain small, God is listening. He never sleeps. He’s never too busy. He’s never hoping I go away and stop bothering Him.
He knows my name.
I’m not a faceless, nameless one of thousands or millions chattering away like background noise in a crowd.
He hears MY voice.
God-my God-has a personal, specific relationship with me, His child.
He leans in, bends down and listens attentively to whatever I tell Him. Like any human father, His heart is pierced when mine is broken.
I am so, so thankful that the God I serve loves me.
He specifically, purposefully loves me with unconditional love.
Even when I’m weak.
Even when I’m running away.
Even when I question the things He allows in my life.
He will never look away or stop reaching for me.
What does it mean to you that God hears you?
Do you always FEEL heard? Why or why not?
When have you felt God’s personal care and encouragement?
How might you help your heart hold onto the truth in this verse when it seems God isn’t listening or at least isn’t giving you the relief you seek?
Can you find two or three other verses that emphasize God’s attentiveness to His children?
Sometimes I am willing to give mental assent to the fact that You hear me. And yet my heart argues that my head must be mistaken because the answers I beg for are long in coming.
The silence is deafening.
But I know your ways are not My ways and Your time is not my time. Give me confident assurance that You hear me whenever I cry out to You. Thank you that in Christ I can call You “Daddy” and always rest in the truth You are for me and not against me.
Fill my heart full of Your love. Overwhelm me with Your grace-grace to ask and grace to endure no matter what the answer may be. Amen
One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is that the medical model of “identify, treat, cure” is not applicable to grieving hearts.
Grief is not a disease. It’s not an abnormality. It doesn’t need to be treated and cured so that it “goes away”.
It’s the perfectly normal and appropriate response to loss.
A more helpful model is compassionate companionship.
What grievers need is faithful friends and family who choose to come alongside and refuse to be frightened away when the process seems long, tortuous and challenging. We need others to be present, to truly listen and to bear witness to our wounds.