Not a State But a Process

C. S. Lewis gave voice to so much of human experience in ways that help us understand ourselves and one another.

His book, Mere Christianity, began as a series of radio talks that were later compiled, published and sold millions and millions of copies.

I think Lewis managed to use a conversational, inviting voice in all his works.

When I read them I feel like I’m chatting with a friend (granted, an extremely erudite friend!).  He and I are discussing a thing, reasoning through it together.

He’s not teaching me something, he’s guiding me to learn it for myself.

When he experienced the loss of his beloved wife, this giant of the faith struggled like all us mortals.  His grief journal was eventually published as the book,  A Grief Observed, and has helped many of us who sorrow describe our feelings and find our way.

I particularly love this quote:

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process … There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape … Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.
~C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Lewis understood that grief was not a state which could be changed like ice to water through the application of heat. 

There is no quick fix for a broken heart.  No remedy for missing someone you love.

Instead, grief is a process.

It’s a lifelong journey of remaking a relationship that can no longer depend on physical presence and new memories.  It circles back again and again, asking the same questions, sometimes finding new answers but often having to settle for the old ones.

mixed stages of grief

It’s almost five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and while I have forged new paths in that time, much of my travel has been over well-worn ruts that bring me to the same watering holes.

I’m often surprised that life after loss is not linear at all.

I do feel (as I’ve shared before) that the circles progress ever upward.

I’m not standing still.

But I’m not free to escape the valley.

How To Be Fierce Without Being Fractious

It’s funny how child loss has, at the same time, made me more yielding and more steadfast.

I give in without a moment’s hesitation to other people’s choice in where to go for lunch, what to do for birthdays, how to arrange this or that at church.  My brain simply doesn’t have the capacity any more to argue over trifles.

But I will stand up to a lion for the sake of love or to protect a hurting heart.

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I can be a little reactionary when that happens-snapping and biting the heads off those who might have said or done something in ignorance and not intentionally.

So I’m learning to think a minute before I launch into a tirade and try to discern just what will be most helpful.

I want to challenge and educate folks, not send them running for cover every time they see me coming around a corner.

I want to be fierce without being fractious.

I ask myself, “How can I communicate truth in love?” and I try to follow these precepts:

Don’t attack the person.  Quite often people speak without thinking and speak about things they haven’t experienced.  They may just be parroting something they’ve heard and not even actually believe it themselves.

Ask questions.  Try to suss out WHY they said or did what they said or did.  Again, without thinking?  Or is there a motive behind it?  Fear is a frequent motivator for pushing hurting hearts away.  People are afraid of how much they might have to invest in a relationship or they are afraid that what happened to me can happen to them and they just don’t want the reminder.

Many People Thinking of Questions

Educate.  I often start by saying something like, “If you haven’t buried a child, you would have no way to know this but…” and follow up with whatever I think they might need to hear.  No one can argue with my experience.  I’ve never had a single person walk away angry when I share this way.  Some have come back and thanked me for the insight.

schoolhouse

Extend grace.  I know child loss but I don’t know everything or even a tenth of everything.  So while my friend may have stepped on MY toes by saying or doing something today, I’ve probably stepped on HERS another day.  I try to assume that the person in front of me is doing the best he or she can and not aiming to inflict pain on my heart.

grace tree

Choose to end fruitless discussions.  If I realize that the person I’m speaking to is defensive, resistant and unyielding, then I find an opportune moment to end the conversation.  We’ve all been there-someone itching for a fight decides that now is the moment to have one.  I’m not interested in debating anyone over my experience so I just don’t.

calvin-cartoon_debate

As long as I walk in this world there will be others with whom I disagree.  some who actively seek to wound and many who are just ignorant of situations they have never experienced. 

I don’t want to bludgeon them with words, forcing them to agree with me.  

I want to be a light that opens eyes, a gentle breeze that blows away the fog and helps them see clearly.  

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

Good Answers to Hard (Insensitive,Inappropriate) Questions

I was utterly amazed at the questions people plied me with not long after Dominic’s accident.

They ranged from digging for details about what happened (when we ourselves were still unsure) to ridiculous requests for when I’d be returning to my previous responsibilities in a local ministry.

Since then, many of my bereaved parent friends have shared even more questions that have been lobbed at them across tables, across rooms and in the grocery store.

Recently there was a post in our group that generated so many excellent answers to these kinds of questions, I asked permission to reprint them here (without names, of course!).

So here they are, good answers to hard (or inappropriate or just plain ridiculous) questions:

When asked to do something the week or month or even year after your child left:

  • No.  (It’s a complete sentence.  You do not have to give an explanation.)
  • Thank you for asking me.  I won’t be able to participate this time.
  • I’m so sorry.  This is a hard time of year for me and I just can’t do it.
  • Since my son’s accident, I don’t do well at holidays (or summer, or birthday month).  I can’t take on any extra responsibilities right now.
  • I’m sorry, we will be out of town. (If you really WILL be out of town.)

When asked about the details of your child’s death:

  • Why do you ask? (Stops them nearly every time.)
  • That’s an uncomfortable question that I’d rather not answer.
  • Does it matter?
  • We choose not to talk about his/her death and prefer to talk about his/her life.  Would you like to know something about him/her?
  • I prefer not to relive that trauma, thank you.

When asked, “How are you?”:

  • About as you would imagine given the circumstances.
  • Managing to do what must be done but very sad my son (or daughter) is no longer here with me.
  • Trying hard to put the pieces back together.  It’s a struggle every day.
  • Our family is loving one another through the hardest thing we’ve ever experienced.
  • How are YOU?  (Most won’t even notice you didn’t answer and will launch into their own discourse.)

When asked if you think you’re “back to normal” or “over it”:

  • No.  (It’s a complete sentence, see above.)
  • I’ll never be over my child. I’m not over any of my children.  How could I be?
  • My life has been shattered.  I can’t even find all the pieces much less assemble them into whatever normal used to be.
  • I don’t remember what “normal” is.
  • It’s a daily adjustment that I will be making for the rest of my life.

When asked anything at all that seems insensitive, inappropriate or just downright nosey:

  • I’m so sorry, I need to go.  Bye!
  • I can’t talk about that now.
  • Say nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Until they change the subject for you.
  • How are you?  Your children?  (Or any other question back at them-ignoring theirs)

I am obligated (by my profession of faith) to be as kind and polite as I can be but I am not obligated to answer every question someone asks.  

I’ve found that having some of these pat answers in my pocket helps.  Many of them are good for just about any question that may come my way.  

I try to deflect, demur or redirect.  

But when that fails I’m just as likely to tell the truth, which is often not at all what the person really wants to hear.  

And then they are left scrambling for a way out of a conversation I never wanted to have in the first place. 

Which is fine with me.  

silent with heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repost: Trusting God After Loss-Why It’s Hard, Why It’s Necessary

This time of year when broken hearts are surrounded by happy hearts it can hit hard.  

“Why, oh why is MY child not here?”  

“Where were You, God?” 

Believe me, more than four years later and I fall right back into the same questions I thought I had asked and answered (or become satisfied NOT to answer).

So I have to return to the basics of walking my heart through the steps of leaning into trust.

I wrote this awhile ago-combining in one post all the posts in this series.  I pray that if you, like me, need a refresher course in trusting God after loss, it helps your heart. 

One of the greatest challenges I faced this side of child loss was finding a space where I could speak honestly and openly about my feelings toward God and about my faith.

So many times I was shut down at the point of transparency by someone shooting off a Bible verse or hymn chorus or just a chipper, “God’s in control!”

They had NO IDEA how believing that (and I do!) God is in control was both comforting and utterly devastating at the very same time.

Read the rest here:  Trusting God After Loss: Why It’s Hard, Why It’s Necessary

Have I Put God in a Box?

I honestly thought I had a fairly accurate and well-rounded theological grid before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

I had studied Scripture diligently for over 25 years, read extensively, engaged in active and insightful conversation with thoughtful believers and swallowed some difficult truths.

But when faced with my child’s untimely and sudden death, I realized that I had also swallowed some untruths and half-truths.

I thought I had God figured out, that I knew how He worked in the world and that I was definitely on the inside track to gain His favor and blessing.

I was wrong.

I wrote this a couple years ago, but it is something I have to come back to over and over in this Valley of the Shadow of Death:

Every idea of [God] we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed…’ I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.’

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964)

It’s possible that you haven’t thought of it this way, but if you are a believer in Christ and have yet to walk through faith-shattering trials, you may have placed God in a box.

I know I had.

Read the rest here:  God in a Box

How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs to Ask

After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet. 

Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.  

Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.

And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream: 

How do I DO this? 

How do I keep on living when all I want to do is give up and give in?  How does a body carry this pain-is it even possible?

grief bubble

When I dared look past the moment to the days, weeks, months, DECADES that stretched before me, I was undone.

Even now, if I look too far ahead, my heart pounds and my head explodes.  

So I don’t.  

Honestly, THAT’S how you do it.  

One day at a time.

One moment at a time.

One breath at a time.

I keep reminding my heart that the only thing I have to do is right now. I hold my attention to this very moment and refuse to let my thoughts wander. 

Sure I mark dates on the calendar and am even able to plan ahead a bit now.  But it was nearly three years until I could do that without shaking as I wrote them down.

So dear mama, dear daddy, give yourself permission not to try to figure out what a parent’s heart was never meant to calculate-how to live without the earthly companionship of the child you love-and just breathe.  

One day at a time.

One moment at a time.

One breath at a time.

 

 

 

Ask Me, Please.

I have been guilty of this more times than I ‘d like to admit. 

I assume someone else’s feelings mirror my own and act on that assumption by withdrawing or not showing up or “giving them space”.

But the problem is, most times, on reflection, I realize my action (or inaction) was really all about sparing my own feelings  or staying within my own comfort zone.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

~Jeremiah 17:9 NIV

So I’m learning to ask hard questions.

And I wish others would do the same.

Image result for dont assume ask me please

Before I assume someone doesn’t want companionship, or a phone call or another text or message, I’m trying to give them the opportunity to say no.  

I’ve been surprised more than once when I wanted to keep my distance in the name of “giving someone space” or “not bothering someone” that if I DID reach out, she responded by saying it was just what she needed.

I admit that asking risks rejection or worse-I might end up bearing the brunt of someone’s very bad day (or week!).  But not asking means I may not be doing precisely the thing God wants me to do.  I may be choosing the easy way out and rationalizing it so I feel better but the poor heart that needs my companionship or encouragement is left without the very help I was meant to provide.

I think Dominic’s death has made me brave in this one tiny place:  I say things I might not have said before.  I risk pain in relationships where I might not have been willing to risk before.  I assume that if I don’t speak important truths RIGHT NOW I might not get another chance.

I long to be a burden bearer for my friends and family because I know what it is to bear a burden.

So I ask and don’t assume.  

If someone wants to be left alone, then they are free to tell me.

But I will not stay silent or keep away simply for my own comfort.  

Who knows?  Maybe this is exactly the good work God has prepared in advance for me to do.

Image result for the good works that god has prepared for us