I admit I’m full of words. When my mama came to pick me up when her best friend was babysitting for awhile, she said, “You can’t have her yet, she’s telling me all kinds of things!”
More than once my mouth got me in trouble.
It’s still the source of most of my problems.
But for a time after Dominic left I found that the only words I could muster beyond what was absolutely necessary were written in my journal. Because the words I wanted to say were bitter and harsh and tasted bad as they came up my throat and threatened to roll off my tongue.
I first shared this post four years ago when I was nearly two years into this journey and realized that for many of my friends and family Dominic’s death had faded into the background.
It was a date on the calendar for THEM but it was an ongoing experience for me and my family.
I was reminded of how time feels very different to the bereaved this weekend as I spent the first anniversary of my mother’s stepping into Heaven with my father.
So, so many things remind a grieving heart of the person we miss. So, so many everyday moments transport us back to THAT moment, THAT day.
You might not (I hope you don’t!) understand. It really costs little to extend grace to the grieving. But for those of us whose hearts are broken, it makes all the difference.
You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.
You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall. He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.
We want to DO something, to effect change, to “solve the problem”, to make things better.
But there are circumstances in life that cannot be fixed, changed or solved.
Child loss is one of them.
Those suffering under the load of pain and sorrow, devastation, heartbreak and brokenness that enter a heart when a child leaves this earth need compassionate companionship, not advice.
That might mean you have to bite your tongue. It might mean you have to sit silent as tears roll down or sobs wrack your friend’s body. It might mean that you have to refrain from making comparisons between their grief and your own (whatever that might be).
It most certainly means that you should keep reaching out, reaching across the divide that separates the bereaved from the non-bereaved, and put your own ego aside when it seems like all the effort you are making isn’t making a difference.
It takes lots and lots of time and lots and lots of work for a heart to even begin to heal from deep grief.
Your constant and unwavering support can provide the space and grace that enables someone to do that.
Don’t give up on your brokenhearted friend.
Encouragement can make the difference between giving up or going on.
Your compassionate companionship can offer hope and light in a hopeless and very dark place.
Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of Dominic running ahead to Heaven. I spent a portion of the day thinking about all the people who ministered to our family in those first days and weeks.
What a difference they made!
When our hearts were full of sorrow, they helped us bear the burden. When we couldn’t think straight and make important decisions they came alongside and guided us through. When the dark closed in around us, they held our hands and held a light.
If you want to know what to do when someone you love is thrust into a life they didn’t choose, show up.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be present.
This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved.
A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.
The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.
Sometimes I’m envious of folks hobbling along in those plastic boots designed to support an injured leg or ankle and aid healing.
Not because of the injury–I’m thankful I’ve never broken a bone-but because it’s an outward warning to anyone who might otherwise be impatient or insensitive that they just can’t go any faster.
I think there ought to be some kind of t-shirt, pin or banner that gives the same kind of warning for those of us walking around with broken hearts and broken lives.
But there isn’t.
Except for the first shell-shocked days immediately following Dominic’s death, I look pretty much the same as I always have.
Most of us do.
If you lined up a hundred parents and scattered ten in the group who had suffered child loss, very few people would be able to single them out.
The giant heart wound we bear is barely noticeable to the uninitiated.
Yet even years later, we need extra support, extra care, extra grace to help us continue to heal.
There’s no plastic boot to fit around a broken heart. But there are things friends and family can do to create safe spaces that protect it.
Remember my heart is tender and easily bruised.
Speak about my child in Heaven. When I hear his name it is music to my ears.
Allow me to graciously bow out of activities or gatherings that are noisy, busy or filled with people I don’t know.
Don’t change the subject when I become emotional because you are uncomfortable-acknowledge my pain as a perfectly acceptable response to an unfathomable loss or just hug me.
Help me carry the light and life of my missing child by sharing memories, photographs or mementos. It’s a great gift to know that my child is spoken about, remembered and loved by others.
Recognize that while I am stronger, the absolute weight of my burden isn’t lighter. On some days it’s heavier than others so don’t be surprised by tears that seem out of place or out of time.
Remember important dates like my child’s birthday or memorial service day or even when he or she would have graduated high school or college if denied that opportunity. My heart mark all those silent grief anniversaries even when no one else recognizes them. It can be awfully lonely. Compassionate companionship expressed in a note, text or call helps so very much.
Please don’t give up on me! There may be seasons when i isolate in an effort to protect my heart. I know it’s hard to continue to reach out to someone who won’t reach back, but sometimes I just don’t have the strength to do it even when the distance is short. Try again in a little while.
If you know someone whose child has run ahead to Heaven, don’t ignore the wound.
Don’t insist that they walk as fast or as unencumbered as you might.
I have to admit that I’m not nearly in the fog as much with my mama’s death as I was with Dominic’s death.
I’ve found this time around I can kind of stand a little apart and be a little more objective.
It’s no less horrific or painful or sad, but it IS an orderly death (parents before children) and gives me space to take a step back and observe some things instead of having to filter every single interaction through my emotions.
So can I share a little secret?
It literally takes five minutes or less to encourage a broken heart.
I know people often think that if they don’t have the perfect words or lots of time it’s better to do or say nothing.
That’s just not true.
Send a text, a private message, an email, a card. Make a quick phone call (believe me, the bereaved will not keep you on the line!) or leave a voicemail.
What grieving hearts want to know is that someone sees their pain, someone has taken notice of the drastic and unwelcome change that’s been thrust upon them.
We don’t want to feel invisible. We don’t want to be overlooked because it makes you uncomfortable.
Face your own discomfort (which is microscopic compared to the heartache of the bereaved!) and make the call, send the message, write the email or card.
I promise you will waste more than five minutes today.
So take that tiny bit of time and focus your efforts on speaking courage to a hurting heart.
You don’t have to have the perfect words- “I’m so sorry” is just fine.
Then your head can hit the pillow tonight knowing you helped a heart hold onto hope.
You made a difference between someone giving up or going on.