grief and sleep

Boy, do I envy my cats’ ability to fall asleep any place, any time.

I’ve lived with chronic physical pain for over a decade and there are nights when it is hard to go to sleep-when it is impossible to ignore the pain.  But I have never thought of myself as having trouble sleeping.

Until now.

When grieving a child, you are oh, so very tired.  Yet often sleep eludes you.

“He who learns must suffer.  And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Aeschylus

Lying in bed, in the dark, my mind kicks in to hyper-drive.  With no external stimulation to provide distraction, images come unbidden and unwelcome to taunt me.  I work hard to guide the train of thought to a less tortuous route.

So I thought I would share some ways that help me make it through the long nights:

  • Only lie down when you are tired enough to expect that you can fall asleep.  I am physically active each day so that at least my body is ready for rest.
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages after 12 noon and don’t eat heavy foods past mid-afternoon.
  • Be selective about what you listen to, watch or read in the hours leading up to bedtime.  I try to feed my mind images and information that will help me focus on more positive themes when I close my eyes.
  • Keep a pad and pencil next to the bed to jot down last minute reminders of things you might need to remember tomorrow.  I try to think ahead and have a rough plan of action for the next day so that my mind can rest.
  • Make sure you are physically comfortable–room temperature and bed clothes appropriate to the season, pajamas in soft fabrics, well-hydrated, take analgesics as needed for physical pain, etc.
  • Make whatever concessions are needed to hold anxiety at bay.  I have a nightlight in my bathroom that casts a soft glow into my bedroom.  I keep my cell phone and home phone next to me because once you get “that call” you feel like you must be instantly accessible to loved ones.  My cat sleeps with me–purring is a great comforter.
  • When I turn out the light and turn over, I purposely focus my mind’s attention and heart’s affection on trusting God to help me drift off to sleep.

“I can lie down and go to sleep, and I will wake up again, because the Lord ·gives me strength [sustains/upholds me].”

Psalm 3:5 EXB

  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, try reciting Scripture or humming hymns and try to lull yourself back to sleep. I will sometimes do mental work like planning a project or trying to recall a childhood memory–anything that might make me tired.
  • If  you can’t go back to sleep in 30 minutes or so, get up and get on with the new day–even if it is only hours old.  There’s no use lying in bed and tossing and turning. While I may be exhausted for that day, I’m almost certain to be able to sleep better the next night.

Sleep is important.

If you find that you are unable to get more than a few hours sleep for longer than two weeks–talk to your doctor.  There is NO SHAME in asking for help. And there are many products available that are non-habit forming and suitable for short-term use.

It is impossible to do the work grief requires if you are worn out from lack of sleep in addition to carrying the pain of losing your child.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

Henry Ward Beecher

If we can help ourselves get the rest we need, we are better able to face the challenge of each new day.

 

Not as Strong as I Look

 

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

Anticipation

All around the world children climb in bed tonight, barely able to close their eyes because they can hardly wait for the celebration tomorrow.

Anticipation is a powerful motivator.

Looking forward to a reward, children may find that they really CAN behave.  Thinking ahead to family flooding in, parents might realize that those piles of clutter that have been too big to tackle are easy to get rid of.

Presents, food and family fellowship will bring in the new day.

Anticipation fuels expectations and all too often our perfectly imagined Christmas morning doesn’t quite measure up.

Inevitably someone will be disappointed because what they thought they were getting for Christmas isn’t under the tree.  Eventually a cross word disrupts the harmony and hurt feelings reign.

People disappoint us.  Life rarely turns out the way we think it should or hope it will.

But there is One in Whom I can place my trust.  One Whose name is Faithful and True.

He came as a Babe but reigns as a King.

My heart longs for the day when wrong is made right and my faith made sight.

On that Day, I will take hold of my heart’s hope and I will not be disappointed.

Until then I will rest in the real promise of Christmas:

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

Luke 2:14 MSG

 

Handle With Care

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.

Waiting On Someday

It’s been said that children are a mother’s heart walking around outside her body–mine certainly are.

And now part of my heart is in heaven.  That makes the promises of God so much more personal.

So I hunt for, cling to and chew on every word like it really is the bread of life–because while I walk the valley of the shadow of death this is the food that sustains me.  

Today  my heart is broken, but someday it will be whole again.

Today I walk in shadow, but someday I will walk in bright light:

“No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Isaiah 60:19 NLT

Today all creation groans under the curse of sin and death, but someday everything will be restored, renewed and redeemed. 

On this mountain [Zion] the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples [to welcome His reign on earth],
A banquet of aged wines—choice pieces [flavored] with marrow,
Of refined, aged wines.

And on this mountain He will destroy the covering that is [cast] over all peoples,
And the veil [of death] that is woven and spread over all the nations.

He will swallow up death [and abolish it] for all time.
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
And He will take away the disgrace of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

It will be said in that day,
“Indeed, this is our God for whom we have waited that He would save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us shout for joy and rejoice in His salvation.”
Isaiah 25:6-9 AMP