Being There: No Substitute For Showing Up

I totally get itwe are ALL so busy.

Calendars crammed weeks and months in advance and no white space left over to pencil in lunch with a friend even though we desperately NEED it.

It seems impossible to make that call, write that note or stop by and visit a few minutes.

How can I meet my obligations if I use precious time doing the optional?

But when the unexpected, unimaginable and awful happens, suddenly that calendar and all those appointments don’t matter.  Balls drop everywhere and I don’t care.

Because when your family or best friend needs you, you come-no questions asked.

You toss a few necessities in your carry-on, lock the door, unplug the coffee pot and RUN.

You connect that phone to the car charger and dial away as you drive down the road.

And you show up.

Because when someone needs you, REALLY needs you, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for presence.

And the world keeps spinning.

All those “important” commitments cluttering my calendar are still there.  But a few phone calls later and they are easily rearranged. Medicine refills can be sent almost anywhere.  Church responsibilities can be shouldered by someone else.  Social dates can be rescheduled.

The only thing that matters is being exactly where your heart tells you it needs to be for exactly as long as you need to be there.

But you don’t have to wait until it’s an emergency to show up.

If it can wait if it HAD to, then it can wait.

You will not be going over a “to do” list with your last breath.

Choose to make people a priority right now-you might not get a second chance,

cant change the beginning but can change the ending

 

 

 

No Contest: There’s Enough Heartache to Go Around

I may get jeered by my fellow bereaved parents but I’m committed to honesty so here it is: there is no hierarchy of grief and loss.

Now, am I saying that losing a dog is the same as burying a child?  Absolutely not!  I’ve written about that here.

But what I am saying is that grief, sorrow, loss and heartbreak comes to us in all shapes and sizes.  And what may be small to me may be huge to someone else.

In the past weeks I’ve been exposed to a number of people who were waiting for those magic minutes of visitation allowed for intensive care units.

Each one had a story.  

Each one had a cross to bear and a complicated life they were trying to maintain outside the additional stress and strain of a loved one hooked up to tubes and heart monitors.

None of them revealed (to me at least) that they were bereaved parents.

But I could clearly see pain, sorrow, grief and weariness etched in their furrowed brows. I could hear exhaustion in their voices as they placed phone call after phone call to update people that wanted to know how things were going but couldn’t make it to the hospital.  I noticed hope spring to life in each heart when the clock ticked toward the assigned visitation window and how they leaned forward willing those last seconds to fly by faster.

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I knew they were hurting.  It didn’t matter if they hurt as much or less than me. There’s enough pain to go around in this life.

It isn’t a contest.

And I realized that because of my great grief and sorrow, I had a gift to share.  I could reach out and take a hand, listen to a story, hug a weary shoulder empathetically, gently and without judgement.

I understand the weight of hard things.

I know by experience that life can change in a single breath.  I carry both the ongoing burden of missing my son and the traumatic memory of life changed instantly by a knock on the door.   It’s made me stronger in ways I would not have chosen.

I will not squander that strength.

I will put my shoulder to the harness alongside my fellow humans and offer to help carry some of their burden.  I will extend my hand to the stumbling, strengthen the heart of the hurting and offer a listening ear to the one who has no one to talk to.

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I cannot undo what I know.  I cannot undo what has brought them here or may take them to places THEY don’t want to go.

But I can be present.

I can refuse to turn away because I think their grief is small in comparison to my own.   

I can choose love.  

hands-passing-heart

 

Healing? Curing? Same Thing?

Healing and curing are not the same thing.

Healing is a process that takes as long as it takes and may never be complete this side of eternity.  It’s a folding in of the hard parts of my story, an acknowledgement of the way I am changed because of the wounds I’ve received.  It involves scar tissue and sore spots and ongoing pain.

healing is not the absence of pain silhouette of sorrow

To be cured is to be free of the effects of disease or injury.  

And there is no cure for child loss.

I will never be free of the effects of burying a child this side of Heaven.

I did not understand the difference until it was my heart bearing an incurable wound.

The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief or through the process of reconciliation requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.

~Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

It really IS all about relationship.

Relationship first with the Living God through His Son, Jesus.

The ongoing life-giving ministry of His Spirit calls courage to me as I travel this Valley and sings hope to my heart when I cannot hear anything else.  

He will not leave me in my distress.

He does not abandon me in my darkest hour.

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But it is also about relationship with others.

Relationship with those willing to meander with me along this unlit and winding path.  They are the ones who give me courage to carry on. They are the ones who lift me up when I am unable to lift myself and who lie down with me when even their best pep talk is not enough to get me off the floor.

friends pick us up

They have listened to me tell and retell my story.

The first time I told it, I didn’t have a clue what to say or how to say it-what to leave in, what to leave out.  How do you condense a life-sized earthquake to a novel, much less a few sentences?

But I find as I practice telling my story, it is healing.

Sometimes it’s as if I speak without my mind being engaged and listening,  I have an “aha” moment-suddenly recognizing a new insight and another place that needs work or has received healing.

I’ve learned that there is no substitute for companionship on this journey.  

My healing depends on the faithful Presence of my Shepherd

AND

the faithful presence of friends who refuse to leave even when it seems we are lost in the wilderness of grief together,

relationshipmatters-pic

 

 

 

 

Subtle Disapproval

I mention that today is a hard day to someone who knows my story and the words fall with a loud “thud!”  between us.

I don’t know whether to pick them up or not and she isn’t having anything to do with them.

So I move on to another topic.  Clearly this one isn’t going anywhere.

There are lots of ways to send messages of disapproval.  You can “just say NO” like kids are told to do in anti-drug and anti-bullying campaigns.  You can rant and rave and argue and rail against someone or something in person and on social media.

Or you can just ignore someone when they spill what matters to them like an offering on the ground at your feet.

The opposite of love is not hate.

It’s indifference.

The opposite of support is not opposition.

It’s looking the other way.

Strangers line streets to cheer marathoners on-offering cups of water and words of affirmation.

“You can do it!”  “Keep going!”  “You are more than half-way there!”  “Don’t give up!”

hobbling-runner

And yet many of us are running the race of our lives without a cheering section.

I get ityou are so very tired of the fact that I am so very tired.  I have worn out the welcome mat to the door of your heart.  It DOES get old when I bring the same baggage with me each time we talk.

baggage

Trust me, I’m working hard at unpacking it.  I’m doing all I can to lighten my load and what I ask you to help me carry.

But it is a slow, slow process.

And every time I need help or encouragement and don’t get it, another brick is added to the suitcase.

You might think you are helping me learn to ignore the pain by ignoring my mention of it but I don’t have that luxury.

It’s my heart wound, not yours.  

It’s my child buried, my child not here, my child gone from sight-how exactly should I ignore that?  Which of your children could you put away for a lifetime and forget was ever here?

If you want to help me lighten the load,

let me unpack my pain by telling my story.

If you want me to finish the race strong,

cheer me on.

best way you can help me

 

 

Twelve Things I Love to Remember

It rolls around every month-the twelfth-that glaring reminder that on this day “x” number of months ago, I woke to the news Dominic was never coming home again.

This month is 28.  Twenty-eight months-more than 28 moon cycles-over two years.

I don’t cry all day on this monthly reminder anymore-although I used to. And I have tried various ways to redeem it.

This month I decided to share twelve things I love to remember about Dominic. Maybe some things even his good friends didn’t know:

  • Dominic HATED to lose.  When he was a little boy we participated in a monthly skate session at a local roller rink.  At the end of the skating time (to encourage kids to quickly take off and return their skates) there were foot races broken up by age and gender. Poor Dom-he was built like a gymnast not a runner and he. just. couldn’t. win.  EVERY TIME, he’d come stomping off the floor, nearly in tears because he didn’t win.  So many things came easily to him but this didn’t and it frustrated him.
  • Dominic finished his undergraduate degree in three and a half years-double major-graduated Magna Cum Laude and delivered the undergraduate address for his graduation ceremony. I love that he was so goal-oriented and persevered even when it was really hard.

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  • He could subsist on rice and broiled chicken breasts when he was trying to work on muscle definition (he rarely missed a day at the gym) but when he was a little kid he hid candy along the side of his mattress.  He remained a sucker for a good sugar binge, especially when stressed during finals.
  • Dominic was scared of needles.  His PCP finally shamed him into getting a needed tetanus shot but he hated it!

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  • He had a weakness for puppies, kittens and kids.

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  • If it had strings, Dominic could play it-mandolin, guitar, bass, banjo.  And if you could coax rhythm out of it, he could make it sing.  Never silent, never still-always making some kind of music. Boy do I miss that!

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  • Dominic never took “no” for an answer.  He would doggedly pursue anything and anyone if he thought it was a valid case or course of action.  He had an entire university policy overturned because he was able to demonstrate to the administration that its application was faulty.  That’s part of what would have made him a great lawyer…
  • He was an adrenaline junkie.  He was the one that wanted to jump out of an airplane so he did.

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  • As an undergraduate he had a part-time job as a  lifeguard at the student recreation center.  He loved the job  but hated swimming. He was an amazing athlete.
  • Although he was an excellent orator, he didn’t really talk until he was almost three and had a speech impediment until he was into second grade.  You would never have known it if you met him as an older teen or adult.

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  • Oh!  Dominic was stubborn!  I remember one afternoon when I had given an assignment to draw a leaf in his nature journal.  He sat, without drawing, for over an hour because he insisted he couldn’t draw, wouldn’t draw and didn’t see the point in the assignment.  I finally caved and said he could trace the leaf.  I still have that picture as a testimony to his mulish side.
  • Dominic had a great sense of humor and nothing was out of bounds if it made someone laugh.

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I am so thankful God made me his mama.  I love every memory I have.  I really wish we could make more…

 

 

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

Please-Just. Listen.

It’s hard-it’s hard to stay the words that come unbidden to mind and threaten to fly out of your mouth.

It takes restraint.  And patience.  And wisdom.

But when I finally open my locked box of hurt and pain and memories and heartache-please, please-just listen.

I know better than you that nothing anyone says, or does or hopes to do can change the facts.

Dominic’s not here-he’s there.

And I also know that makes you feel helpless.  I feel helpless too.

I’m not looking for pity.  I don’t want attention.  I have no desire to make you sad.

I have to let it out or I’ll burst.  If others saw the fullness of emotions brimming in my heart they would stand amazed that I could push them down and keep them inside so much of the time.

But speaking my sorrow is empowering.  

It provides a witness.  It means that he matters, that I matter and that this awful reality is recognized by someone other than just me.

When you shut me down or shut me out I. am. crushed.

Again.

In the end, you can walk away.  You have another life to go back to.  My pain is tangential to the reality of your every day.

It is central to mine.

So, please-encourage my heart with compassionate presence and just listen.

presence best gift