An Invitation

When Dominic died,  I was unaware of any  resources available to bereaved parents other than books written on the subject.  Thankfully, through personal contacts and Google searches, I found out about groups, online communities, blogs and excellent articles that helped me understand I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy and I could survive.

I am working on a series of posts that will highlight some of the most helpful things people did for me and our family in the early days of our grief journey.  I will also share the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological challenges and experiences of bereavement.

If you are a bereaved parent or someone who loves a bereaved parent, please consider joining me on my public Facebook page:  Heartache and Hope:Life After Losing a Child and share your perspective.

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:Life After Losing a Child–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

Dragging Grief into the Light

During the course of my lifetime I have seen many topics dragged from behind closed doors out onto the stage and under the public spotlight.

Frankly, some of them could have remained in darkness as far as I’m concerned.

But there is something still taboo in polite conversation–something hushed with awkward silence should it ever be spoken aloud in a crowded room–mention GRIEF and eyes drop to the floor or someone hastily throws an arm around you and says, “There, there–it’s going to be alright.”

I don’t blame them.

In my growing up years I don’t remember anyone speaking about death and grief for longer than the time it took to go to a funeral home visitation and stand by the grave as the casket was lowered in the ground.  People were designated by their loss:  He was a widower; she lost a child; her mother died when she was young.

But what came AFTER the loss–not a word.

We need to talk about it.  We need to educate ourselves about it.  Because, like my EMT son says, “No one gets out of here alive.”

You WILL experience grief in your lifetime.

I pray that the people you lose are full of years and ready to go–that you get to say “good-bye” and that all the important things have been said and done so that you aren’t left with extra emotional baggage in addition to the sorrow and missing.

But you never know.  Neither you nor I are in control.

And even in the one place where it would seem most natural to talk about life and death and grief and pain–our churches–it still makes those who are not experiencing it uncomfortable.

Yes, there are grief support groups.  And, yes, they are helpful in ways that only a group made up of people who understand by experience what you are going through can be.

But much of life is spent rubbing elbows with folks unlike ourselves, with parents who know the fear of losing a child but not the awful reality.  And just a little bit of openness, a little bit of education and a little bit of understanding would make such a difference.

So for the next few days I am going to be posting about the grief process itself.  About what grieving parents experience and how friends, family, co-workers and churches can support them.

If you are a grieving parent, I hope these posts will serve as a launchpad for you to have conversations with your own friends and extended family.  If you aren’t a bereaved parent, please commit just the few minutes it takes and consider how you might support someone in your circle of influence who has lost a child.

We don’t want pity.

We aren’t looking for special accomodations that single us out and mark us as “needy”.  But we long for understanding and compassion and the opportunity to tell our stories.

 

 

Fragile

If you’ve ever had major surgery you know that the outside looks whole way before the inside is healed.

That’s how it is with grief–those of us who have lost a child appear to be strong–we have to be, because life doesn’t stop.

Not even for burying a child.

No matter how tightly I strap on my armor, grief sends arrows through the tiniest unprotected chink and pierces my heart.

There is no defense against the sound, the smell, the wayward memory that sends me back in time to when Dominic was alive and with me.  And once there, to drag myself forward to today—where he is neither—is torture. 

Sometimes the process can be a matter of seconds, the only evidence a blank stare or a single tear.  Other times the memories and the forceful return to the here and now unleashes a flood from my eyes and ends my usefulness for that day.

Either way, it’s exhausting. 

I think that might be one of the most surprising aspects of grief for me.  When it strikes hard (as it still does sometimes) it robs me of energy and the desire to do anything.

I am a “get-it-done” kind of person.  But there’s no way to get grief “done”.  It works itself out in its own time and in its own way.

I can position my mind and my heart to heal by focusing on the promises of God in Scripture.  But I cannot hurry along the healing.

And healing, when it comes, will always be incomplete this side of heaven.

Please don’t mistake the fact that I can stand straight and look strong as proof that I am recovered. 

I am often frightened and sometimes I want to hide.

But vulnerable and wounded, I remain until God calls me home.

“In His feathers He shall deliver you and under His wings you shall have refuge; His truth shall surround you as a supply of armor.”

Psalm 91:4

Embracing Solitude, Making Space to Hear

We strive so hard to fill our days–our feet barely hit the floor and we are rushing to get ready, to get in the car, to go somewhere, do something.

And should there be the rare morning when our schedule doesn’t demand our attention, we sleep it away and then turn on our noise machines to provide a soundtrack for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between.

One statistic notes: “our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day—eight hours, 14 minutes.”  (USA Today)

We are afraid to be alone.

Afraid to listen to my own heartbeat and thoughts and to consider my own questions.  So I fill the space with distractions and push away the necessity of facing them.

But grief will not be ignored.

It will not allow me to pull the covers over my mind and hide beneath them.  I cannot turn the music or television up loud enough to drown out the rhythm of sorrow keeping time in my head.

I am re-reading “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis.

It comforts me that this man who was an intellectual giant, a creative genius, and a thoughtful and capable apologist for the Gospel, struggled just like me when faced with the sorrow, pain, loss and questions of grief.

And, contrary to what I wish were true there are not answers available for every question.

Quoting Bible verses does not soothe every frayed nerve.

There are not rock-solid assurances that sweep away every doubt.

Being in one’s own company alone with God is challenging.  

Without the noise of outside distraction I am forced to face my fears and hidden darkness.  

with you always

 

And in the quiet I find that the easy answers leave me empty and unsatisfied.  I must listen carefully for the still, small Voice that whispers comfort.

In the end, it is to Jesus Himself that I must cling.

 

 

Worn

I used to think the expression, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was an exaggeration meant to paint a comical picture of someone who didn’t have sense enough to remove pounds of heavy bricks but buckled under the tiniest extra weight of a single straw.

Now I think it accurately describes those of us with no control over the baggage we have to carry and who find that it really is the small things that force us to the ground.

Just when I’m convinced I have this grief load well-balanced so that the weight, though heavy, is bearable, along comes LIFE and throws the whole rig out of kilter.

Grieving my son means that while I can usually get through the day, I have no extra emotional, psychological, physical or spiritual energy to draw on when things get just a little more challenging:

  • I mean to encourage, but miscommunicate my heart to a friend and hurt her feelings.
  • Family members have needs I can’t meet.
  • People I expected to lend a listening ear spend our time together unloading on me instead.
  • My rheumatoid arthritis flares and moving around just plain hurts.

And I realize that the load I thought I was managing is much too heavy and threatens to crush the wind right out of my lungs.

With my strength gone, the sorrow and the missing and the unanswerable questions dog-pile on my prostrate spirit.

The song “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North describes perfectly how I felt last night:

I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win…Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…‘Cause I’m worn…

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win…Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…Cause I’m worn…

And my prayers are wearing thin, I’m worn even before the day begins.
I’m worn I’ve lost my will to fight, I’m worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes.

Let me see redemption win… Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…

 

 

When it Doesn’t Feel Like Grace

It’s been said that everything this side of hell is the grace of God.

But burying my child doesn’t feel like grace, it feels like punishment.

Or abandonment.

Or forgetfulness.

I cannot add my voice to the modern Christian chorus of “Everything happens for a reason”.

Is this my tree, set in the midst of my garden?  The one about which God says, “Trust Me”?

I am tempted to argue, tempted to try to frame the meaning of my test in terms my human heart can understand.

“God must not love me.”

“He must be hiding something.”

I am faced with the same question that mocked my first mother, “Did God really say?”

And, like Eve, I am tempted to give in to the fear that draws my soul to doubt the wisdom and goodness of God.

Why would He bring me to this place where I am forced to walk obediently in trust and without light?

But these are whispers of the enemy of my soul, luring me away from the only Source of hope and comfort that there is.

And he is skilled at turning my feelings against the truth.

I am powerless to fight the serpent in my own strength, too weak to answer what seem like reasonable questions.

So I throw myself on the mercy of Him Who made me, of Him Who brought me to this point of testing.

In my weakness I rest in His strength.

and finally He said to me, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on—I would rather stake my claim in these and have the power of the Anointed One at home within me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 VOICE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sparrows DO Fall

I have never subscribed to the theory that the Christian life is free of pain and suffering.

But there are some who do.

Christian bookstores are filled with titles touting the path to joy and happiness, the way to wealth and material success.

And some of the claims of these authors and preachers rest on Jesus’ own words in the Sermon on the Mount:

But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33 KJV

They interpret this verse to mean that if your heart is set on God and His Kingdom, then He will give you the things that will make you happy and healthy.

I would argue that they have it all wrong.

My own experience and that of many other faithful followers of Jesus makes plain that loving Christ does not protect you from the evil in this world.  It doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer, that you won’t lose your job, or that you won’t suffer persecution from the enemies of God.

And it doesn’t spare you from burying your child.  

Just a few chapters later, Jesus instructs His disciples as they go out to minister and encourages them with these words:

” Are not two little sparrows sold for a [a]copper coin? And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered [for the Father is sovereign and has complete knowledge]. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” 

Matthew 10:29-31 AMP

More than one song has been written to include the phrase, “His eye is on the sparrow”–meant to bring comfort in moments of fear.

And it is true.  His eye IS on the sparrow.

But read the whole verse: “not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” 

God knows when a sparrow falls, but He doesn’t always stop it from happening.

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

Isaiah 55:8-9

Since Dominic died, I have found an unusual number of bird’s nests knocked down from trees by the wind.

Intact and beautiful, but empty.

I’ve wondered about whether God is trying to encourage me, or simply reinforce the truth that I now carry in my heart:  

Even though He is watching, sparrows do fall.