The Forgotten Ones: Grieving Siblings

I am always afraid that Dominic will be forgotten.  

I’m afraid that as time passes, things change and lives move forward, his place in hearts will be squeezed smaller and smaller until only a speck remains.

Not in my heart, of course.

Or in the hearts of those closest to him, but in general-he will become less relevant.

But he is not the only one who can be forgotten.  I am just as fearful that my living children will be forgotten.

Not in the same way-they are HERE.

They are participating in life and making new memories, new connections and strengthening old ones.

I’m afraid their grief will be overlooked, unacknowledged-swept under the giant rug of life and busyness that seems to cover everything unpleasant or undervalued.

If the course of a bereaved parent’s grief is marked by initial outpouring of concern, comfort and care followed by the falling away of friends, family and faithful companionship then that of a bereaved sibling is doubly so.

Surviving children often try to lessen a grieving parent’s burden by acting as if “everything is OK”.

But it’s not-it is definitely NOT.

missing them from your side

Their world has been irrevocably altered.  They have come face-to-face with mortality, with deep pain, with an understanding that bad things happen-happen to people they love-without warning and without remedy.

They are forced to rethink their family, their faith and their future without a life-long friend and companion.

Part of their history is gone.

If surviving children are young, it can be so, so easy to mistake the natural enthusiasm and excitement of youth for complete healing.  They are often busy with events, education, work and life and the grief they still feel may go unnoticed-even by themselves.

But they need safe, consistent and compassionate care while they navigate grief and the enduring impacts of sibling loss.  School counselors, grief counselors or mature and emotionally stable adult friends can be very helpful during this process.

It’s important to be alert to danger signals.  Behavioral impacts may present in many ways:

  • Anxiety (situational, tests, generalized)
  • Risk taking
  • Isolation
  • Inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Depression
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Poor grades (may have given up or may not be able to concentrate)
  • Extreme concern for other family members and their safety

If you observe any of these changes, get help.  A grieving parent is rarely able to be the sole source of intensive counsel for a bereaved child-someone outside the grief circle may be a better choice.

Adult children-even those married and with kids of their own-are also changed forever by saying “good-bye” to a brother or sister.  Addiction, depression and physical health issues can surface in the wake of loss.  

It’s not always easy to connect the dots back to grief since life is full of stress and strain and they may need help.

My children have been blessed to have friends and loved ones who give them a safe place to go when grief overwhelms them or when other stressors on top of grief make life really hard.

If you know a bereaved sibling:

  • Reach out.
  • Be an encourager.
  • Don’t assume that because time has gone by, they are all better.
  • They may not want to talk about it and that’s OK.  But if they do, listen.  Without platitudes, without judgement-just be a safe place.
  • And if you notice something that’s just not “quite right” try to get them the help they may need to make it through this hard place.

Bereaved families are often doing the best they can, but they can’t do it alone.  

When you bless my earthly children, you bless me.  When you give them space to grieve, you give me space to breathe. When you encourage them, you encourage my heart too.

Don’t forget them.  

Please.  

 

 

 

Can’t Hide the Ugly

Yesterday I was impatient and ugly with someone I love.

When you are hurting, physically or emotionally or physically AND emotionally, you just don’t have the energy to hide the ugly.

But the pain didn’t create the ugly-it just revealed it.

And I am sorry to say that even burying a child did not cleanse me of some ugliness I wish I didn’t have in my heart.

I keep asking God to fill me with His love, mercy and grace.  And I am more full of those things than before.

But there is still plenty of (if not hate then) less-than-love, judgement and impatience. Trials don’t automatically lead to refinement or stronger faith.

Tribulation can drive someone away from God as easily as it can drive them to their knees.

If I’m not careful-if I’m not very careful-I can use my pain as an excuse for all kinds of bad behavior.

So I’m here to confess:  I am so, so sorry.

I’m sorry that when my glass gets tipped, anger and bitterness spills out. I’m sorry that I’m not more faithful to extend grace when I hope grace will be extended to me.  I’m sorry that speaking truth so that I prove my point and wound a heart is sometimes more satisfying than speaking truth in love.

I wish every  deed I did  and every word I spoke was full of life and never full of death.

I hate death.  I. HATE. death.

It has taken enough from me. And I want no part of it.

Father, I want to be a beacon of light and life.  Lord, make me so.  Fill me to overflowing with YOUR love, YOUR life, YOUR grace, YOUR mercy.  Left to myself I have no hope.  But by Your Spirit, it can be so.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.

James 1:2-5 PHILLIPS

 

Come Sit With Me: How Job’s Comforters Got it Wrong

I want to make sense of the senseless.

I want to draw boundary lines around tragedy so I know what precautions can keep it far away from  me.

But God is in control.  Not me.

How Job’s comforters got it wrong…

 

Another Day

I wake and you are still gone.

The cats tap-tap-tapping on my arms and face declare the day has begun despite the dark and I need to climb out of bed.

Why?

What difference does it make?

I trudge downstairs, put the coffee on, feed the cats and settle into my chair to read and write.

Habits.

Routine carries me through the day.  There are things that need to be done.

The sun still rises-must be soon now because I hear the rooster’s escalating declaration that he, at least, can see the light.

One cat settles into my lap adding weight and warmth to the morning. I remember when I held you and your brothers and sister.  I never tired of that sweet bundle bearing down on my heart.

I would do anything to feel it again.

But that can’t be.  And I won’t hold your children either.

All of you was taken away.

Every last molecule, every last gene.

Nothing left but flat photos and memories that are increasingly difficult to piece together in rich detail.

The vital essence that sent shock waves through a room, the loud laugh, the snarky comments, the deep, deep voice that made you sound so serious-all gone.

Heaven is a real  place and I know you are there.

But I want you here.

I can’t help it.

All the theological arguments don’t fill the hole in my heart where you are supposed to be.

Shake it off.

Here’s the sun.

Get to it.

Another day.

 

 

It Changes Everything

Part of the reason I share my story is to provide insight for people who haven’t lost a child into the hearts and lives of those who have.

But mainly it is to be a voice for and to encourage other parents walking this valley by letting them know they aren’t alone, their feelings and experiences are perfectly normal and that just as welcoming a child into your family is a life-altering event, saying good-bye to a child is a life-altering event. 

We do not expect a mom to “get over” the changes having a baby brings to her everyday experience, and we should not expect a  bereaved mom to “get over” the changes burying one brings either.

Want to help?  Read:  Loving the Grieving Heart

Who Needs Hope Unless They are Broken?

The gospels don’t hide the fact that Jesus came to a broken world.

Religious leaders who were supposed to be guarding and guiding God’s people were instead protecting positions of power and leading others astray.

The masses were beaten down-helpless under the burden of Roman occupation and hopeless that they could ever “measure up” under the system of customs and laws that had been imposed by the Pharisees.

Jesus spoke truth to this reality, He didn’t deny it.

Jesus looked brokenness in the face and promised redemption and restoration.

But He admitted that in THIS world, the one we walked on, there would be tribulation.  He didn’t promise a pain-free existence, He promised His Presence in the midst of pain.

And that is the power of the cross-that an instrument of torture became a symbol of hope.

What the enemy meant for evil, God used for good.

When we try to soft-pedal the struggles of life, when we try to shape our stories into victorious narratives with tidy endings, when we deny the presence of pain, we diminish the power of the cross.

Read more here:  denial

Wow! Just. Wow!

I’m always a little frightened to expose my vulnerable underbelly to the sometimes vicious wilderness of the worldwide web.

So when I clicked “send” for yesterday’s post I had immediate regrets-was it too personal? too negative? too self-focused?

I am overwhelmed by the comments both on the blog and on Facebook-comments of encouragement, understanding and hope-not condemnation or condescension.

All I can say is,  “Thank you!”

And I was reminded that isolation is a powerful weapon in the hands of the enemy of our souls.

But godly community disarms it.

So I want to make sure that everyone who reads this blog knows about two online Facebook sites that offer hope and healing through the truth of Scripture and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Each has a public page visible to anyone on Facebook and features posts of interest to bereaved parents and those walking with them.

While We’re Waiting is a large, well established non-profit organization.  In addition to the online presence, it offers in-person support to bereaved parents through retreats and support groups.  I am very grateful to the Sullivans and Browns who founded the group after experiencing child loss-their obedience has been a blessing in my life and in the lives of many other grieving parents. 

Heartache and Hope is the name of a page I created as an additional resource, along with the blog, for those who are grieving a child.

To receive posts in your newsfeed, simply “like” the public page and benefit from the encouragement.

From each group’s public page, bereaved parents and grandparents can request admission to a closed discussion group.

The private discussion groups are just that-private. Only bereaved parents and grandparents may participate.  It’s a safe space where everyone understands and shares your pain.

As I read and was encouraged by each comment on yesterday’s post, I thought of an image many of us have seen-a defensive circle of elephants facing outward-the vulnerable calves safely tucked in the middle.

circle of elephants

A lion can prowl around the edges but knows it is already defeated.  Nothing can penetrate the powerful perimeter that protects the potential prey.

Peter warned early believers:

Most importantly, be disciplined and stay on guard. Your enemy the devil is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chance to devour someone.

I Peter 5:8 VOICE

That’s what community feels like.  

I’m surrounded and protected.  

That old lion-the enemy-can roar all he wants to.  He can’t touch me.

For God did not choose us to condemn us, but that we might secure his salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. He died for us, so that whether we are “awake” or “asleep” we share his life. So go on cheering and strengthening each other with thoughts like these, as I have no doubt you have been doing.

I Thessalonians 5:9-12 PHILLIPS