Repost: Loving a Grieving Heart

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way we who have encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate.  And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

 

 

Repost: What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

I’m sharing this post again because based on response, it continues to speak to grieving parents and to their family and friends.

If you know someone who has lost a child, I hope these words give you insight into how very hard it is to keep going while carrying that burden.

If you are a bereaved parent, you might find sharing this post helps your circle of friends and family get a glimpse inside your own heart.

 

People say, “I can’t imagine.

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

It isn’t nostalgia for a time when things were different or better or you talked more: it’s a gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, knee-buckling, aching groan that lives inside you begging to be released.

There is no smooth transition up the ladder of grief recovery so that you emerge at the top, better for the experience and able to put it behind you.

We’ve all heard the much touted theory that grief proceeds in the following stages:

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

And people (who haven’t experienced grief) tend to think it’s a straight line from one stage to another, gradually going from bottom to top and then on with life.

But it just isn’t true.

Reality is, these “stages” coexist and fluctuate back and forth from day to day and even hour to hour.

Grief remakes you from the inside out.

Losing a child has made me rethink everything I believe and everything I am.  It has changed and is changing my relationship with myself and with others in ways I couldn’t imagine and often don’t anticipate.

And it is hard, hard work.

Life around us doesn’t stop.  Grieving parents return to work, continue to nurture their surviving children, keep getting up in the morning and taking care of daily details.

We are doing all the things others do, but we are doing them with an added weight of sorrow and pain that makes each step feel like wading through quicksand.

We want you to know we are doing the best we can.

Life without my child is like having a leg amputated–I am forced to learn to manage without it, but everything will always be harder and different. And it will be this way for the rest of my life.

The one thing a grieving parent DOESN’T want you to know is how it feels to bury your child.

I don’t want anyone else to know what it means to leave part of your heart and a chunk of your life beneath the ground.

“But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as a comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff   LAMENT FOR A SON

Heartache and Hope

Someone suggested not too long after Dominic died that I might start a group for bereaved parents in my area–there aren’t any close by in our rural Alabama county.

I was not even ready to talk openly about my own feelings, much less listen to and absorb the pain of other grieving parents.

A few months ago I was introduced to a wonderful ministry called While We Are Waiting (whilewearewaiting.org) and discovered the blessing of belonging to a community of people who (unfortunately) know how I feel and can relate to my experience as a bereaved parent.  I began to realize that Facebook can be a place to connect people that otherwise might feel isolated in their pain.

I’m still not ready to sit face-to-face with more than one or two people at a time for deep conversation about life and death and fear and hope.

But I have opened a FaceBook page–Heartache and Hope–and it is public-although I am moderating posts.  I want to facilitate a way for parents in my area or in their own area, to find one another and form communities of support.

For some of us, online will be best.  Others may choose to get together in physical spaces.  Whatever works and brings hope to grieving hearts is wonderful.

I am not going to “invite friends” to like this page-thankfully, I don’t have that many people on my friend list who have buried children.  But I am inviting those who read my blog, and who have themselves lost a child to “like” the Heartache and Hope page.  And please invite other bereaved parents too.

There is no agenda other than encouraging one another in Christ and reminding ourselves of the hope we have in Jesus:  death is defeated, the grave is not the end, and our children will one day be reunited with us in glory.

Listen very carefully, I tell you a mystery [a secret truth decreed by God and previously hidden, but now revealed]; we will not all sleep [in death], but we will all be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed],  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at [the sound of] the last trumpet call. For a trumpet will sound, and the dead [who believed in Christ] will be raised imperishable, and we will be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed]. For this perishable [part of us] must put on the imperishable [nature], and this mortal [part of us that is capable of dying] must put on immortality [which is freedom from death]. And when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the Scripture will be fulfilled that says, “Death is swallowed up in victory (vanquished forever). O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 AMP

Choose Wisely

Even if I live to be ninety, the years I spend on this earth will be the tiniest dot on the eternal timeline of God’s Kingdom.

“Humans are like a breath of air. Their life span is like a fleeting shadow.”

Psalm 144:4 GW

I have one life, one opportunity to do the work for which I was created. There are no “do overs”.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

C.T. Studd

Every day I am confronted by choice.

I choose life or death.  

My words can heal or my words can wound.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.

Proverbs 18:21 MSG

I can help or I can hinder.

My life can be a light or it can add to the darkness of this world.

Father, help me to choose wisely as I enter this New Year. Empower me by Your Spirit to do ‘the good works which [You] have prepared in advance for me to do’ (Ephesians 2:10). Give me the grace to embrace whatever comes my way and accept that it has passed through Your hands before it reaches me.  Fill me to overflowing with Your love so that when I am shaken (and I’m sure I will be shaken), kindness and gentleness spill out.

 

 

curating grief

Most of us have taken a class or two in literature–we read other people’s writing and sit around discussing “what it really means”.  My husband has always scoffed at the notion that anyone but the author knows that.

Me–I love books, plays and poetry so I’ve spent a lifetime reading and trying to interpret the meaning of others’ words.

But now I find I’m leaning more toward my husband’s point of view.

One of the challenges I face as a grieving parent is finding that other people want to interpret my experience for me.

They want to curate my mourning like a museum exhibit–arrange and highlight and sift through the days before and after burying my child and lay my experience out in some way that makes sense to them.

Sometimes it is subtle and involves mentioning memories that cast the missing child in a positive light–extolling his virtues and highlighting his achievements–as if noting how wonderful he was when walking this earth makes it easier to let him go.

Other times it is direct and forceful–“Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  Or, my personal favorite, “You know he’s safe with Jesus and you will be together again one day.”

While my theology rests firmly on the finished work of Christ, my heart longs for the physical presence of my son.  So none of these platitudes are helpful and they only draw a sharper contrast between my hope and my experience.

Let me just be blunt:  unless you have buried a child, you do not know how it feels. 

Full stop.

No debate.

I am grateful for your support, for your prayers, for your kindness, compassion and love.

But please do not tell me how this all makes sense or fits together in God’s plan or will someday “make a difference”.

I  invite you to travel with me, to share stories (good and bad) of my son with me, to sit with me and look at the memories, feel the sorrow and experience the missing.

And, if you are brave, you can ask me what it means.

 

 

When It’s All Been Said and Done

What would you die for?

What are you living for?

These are the questions that fill my mind most days.

It’s easier to think about what I would die for:  my family, my God. Definitely not stuff…

But if I were to die for something, it would be a moment in time, an unrepeatable and finished work.

It’s much more challenging to think about what I will live for.  I have to decide and commit to THAT over and over.

Living after losing a child is a daily exercise of walking in two dimensions–the here and now and the world to come.

My first journal entries after Dominic died were filled with prayers begging God to pour His love, mercy and grace into my broken heart and to make me a vessel of healing for others–to not allow me to become bitter or hard or uncaring–

It was the only good I could imagine coming from the horror of burying my child.

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love’s rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and heaven after
For you’ve joined me at my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone…

When It’s All Been Said and Done (lyrics)

We each only get this one life–how are we going to spend it?

When It’s All Been Said and Done By Robin Mark

Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

We want to enjoy the family that gathers, but their presence makes the empty chair more obvious.

It is so hard to find a way to trudge through the tinsel when what you really want to do is climb into bed and wake up when it’s all over.

There are some practical ways family and friends can help grieving parents during the holidays:

  1. Don’t resist or criticize arrangements a bereaved parent makes to help him or her get through this season.  If they are brave enough to broach the subject, receive their suggestions with grace and encourage them with love.  Do your best to accommodate the request.
  2. If the bereaved parent doesn’t approach you–consider thoughtfully, gracefully approaching him or her about what might make the holidays more bearable.  But don’t expect a well-laid plan-I didn’t get a “how-to” book when I buried my child…this is new to me and very, very painful.  I am doing the best I can to keep my head above the waves and I cannot be expected to captain the boat through these turbulant waters.
  3. Don’t be surprised if a bereaved parent doesn’t want to exchange gifts (or at least, not receive gifts).  No one can rewind time or restore my family circle to wholeness and I just can’t think of anything else that I want or need.
  4. Don’t assume that the bereaved parent should be relieved of all meal duties around the holiday.  For some of us, doing the routine things like baking and cooking are healing.  For others, there just isn’t energy for anything other than the most fundamental daily tasks. ASK if they want to contribute.
  5. Don’t corner surviving children for a private update on their parent’s state of mind.  My children are grieving too.  When you expect them to give an update on me you diminish their pain and put them in a difficult position.  If you want to know, ask me.
  6. If there are young children in the family, it might be helpful to offer to take them to some of the parties/gatherings/church services that their parent may not be up to attending. Ask, but don’t be upset if they say “no”–it might still be too traumatic for either the child or the parent to be separated from one another.

I know that life goes on, the calendar pages keep turning and I can’t stop time in its tracks.  I greet each day with as much faith and courage as I can muster. This season requires a little more-and I will need help to make it through.