I Need To Tell The Story (Even If You’ve Heard It Before)

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.

Not anymore.

Because I understand now that it’s in the telling that one both commemorates and honors people as well as the past.

Me and Aunt Mattie Lou at her 99th birthday.

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 he SHOULD be but ISN’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.

And that helps my heart hold on.

Thank You For Four Years of Faithful Listening!

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.

Scripture Journal Challenge: God Sees You. You Are Not Alone.

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.

QUESTIONS:

  • 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?

PRAYER:

Father God,

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 our 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

Companioning The Bereaved

I’ve learned so much in this journey.

I’ve had to unlearn some things too.

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.

Recently I found this list from Dr. Alan Wolfelt, founder of the Center for Loss (http://www.centerforloss.com) and I love it!

It’s an elegant synopsis of what compassionate companionship looks like in practice:

  1. Being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.
  2. Going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
  3. Honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.
  4. Listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.
  5. Bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.
  6. Walking alongside; it is not about leading.
  7. Discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling up every moment with words.
  8. Being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.
  9. Respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.
  10. Learning from others; it is not about teaching them.
  11. Compassionate curiosity; it is not about expertise.

~Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Eleven Tenets of Companioning the Bereaved

At one time or another each of us need someone to be present, to truly listen and to bear witness to our wounds.

When your world is profoundly dark, an outstretched hand is often the only way a heart can hold onto hope. 

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When I Feel Like God’s Not Listening

I think nearly every bereaved parent has a crisis of faith that takes one form or another.  

When I read scripture I see that most of the “giants” of faith had moments of doubt as well.

I have certainly felt sometimes like God wasn’t listening or if He was listening, He didn’t care.  He’s disappointed me because my prayers were not answered the way I expected them to be or they weren’t answered at all (from my perspective).

Those feelings are normal but feelings don’t always reflect truth.

If I’m to battle the lies my heart is tempted to believe, I must feed it truth until it’s able to take hold of it.

So I go to the Psalms of lament and follow the pattern laid out there:

  • Express my frustration, fear and disappointment (exhale my doubts);
  • bring my broken heart to God (position myself to receive);
  • and recite the truth that God does not lie and that every promise is “ yes” and “amen” in Christ ( inhale strength, faith, comfort and hope).

It’s not a once and done thing- sometimes I do this dozens of times a day. But I always come away stronger and better able to face my fears and doubts.  

If you currently feel like God’s not listening I pray you will take that pain straight to the Throne of grace.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
  Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

  We are brought down to the dust;
    our bodies cling to the ground.
   Rise up and help us;
    rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 44: 23-26 NIV

 

May you choose to trust truth even when your heart doesn’t want to.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
  yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17, 18 NIV

And may you hear the Lord sing grace and mercy over your soul.

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3: 17

When People Just Don’t Listen

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.”  

You might guess where this is going.  

Yep.  Couldn’t take it anymore so I said, “Most young people feel invincible.  They think it won’t happen to them.  If they knew they might really die and all that meant, they wouldn’t do it.”  

Which kind of slowed them down but didn’t stop them.  

So I asked, “Is the guy OK?”  Wanting a simple answer not an account of grisly details.  

Instead, the main speaker turned to me and began to share all he could remember in the brief time he had to take notes as he was crawling slowly by the accident scene.  (I won’t recount them here to spare hearts but let’s just say for those of us whose child left for Heaven by road accident, it was entirely. too. much.)

I looked at him and said, “That’s enough.”  He kept talking. 

I looked at him again and said, “That’s enough.  My son was killed in an accident.”  He kept talking.  

I finally raised my voice, called his name and said, “That’s enough!  Stop talking!”  He turned away like I had lost my mind.

I followed him a couple steps and said, “My son died in an accident.  I don’t want to hear those kinds of details.  Didn’t you see that I was crying?”  

His response:  “Well you asked.  No, I didn’t see you crying.”

Walked away.

Everyone heard it but no one was listening.  Everyone saw it but no one was willing to come alongside and put an arm around me.  Everyone knows about my son but knowing hasn’t sunk in deeply enough to grow seeds of compassion.

I was shaking and wanted to leave right then but didn’t.  

I’m not so tender now at five years that simply hearing about an accident upsets me.  My mind goes immediately to the family and I breathe prayers for abundant grace and mercy.  I never want others to  feel they can’t share genuine prayer requests or concerns.

But I do not want details.  I do not want a blow-by-blow nor anyone’s haughty opinion that it won’t happen to them or theirs because they “take precautions”.

I am utterly undone that after years of gently trying to help the people I worship with understand the tender places in a bereaved parent’s heart, several of them stomped all over mine.

I know words slip out.  I don’t want anyone to walk on eggshells around me. 

But I do want to be heard.  

When I tell you that I need you to stop sharing something with me, please just stop.  

Are you going to burst if you don’t let the words out?  

Probably not.  

But you might well break a bit of my heart if you don’t.  

dragging heart

Repost: Lessons in Grief-Learning to Listen

I admit it:  I’m a fixer.

It’s probably genetic (won’t mention any names!) but it has been reinforced by training and life experience.

When faced with a difficult or messy situation, my mind instantly rolls through an inventory of available resources and possible solutions.

And I tended to cut people off mid-sentence with my brilliant (?) plan to save the day.

But there are things you just can’t fix.

Read the rest here:  Lessons in Grief: Learning to Listen