Why It’s So Important to Model Grief For Our Children & Grandchildren

It’s tempting to try to hide our tears and fears from our living children and grandchildren.  

Who wants to overload a young heart and mind with grown-up problems?

There is definitely a place and time to shelter little people-it’s never appropriate to offload onto small shoulders what we just don’t want to carry ourselves.

But it is neither helpful nor healthy to pretend that sorrow and sadness don’t follow loss.  

im fine now read it upside down

When I stuff feelings and insist on keeping a “stiff upper lip” I’m telling my kids that it’s not OK to admit that they are struggling.

When I act like it’s no big deal to set up the Christmas tree and deck the halls without their brother here, I’m encouraging them to remain silent instead of speaking up if their hearts are heavy instead of happy.

When I never voice my discomfort with certain activities or social events I am modeling a false front and fake smiles.  

Of course, there are times we all have to suck it up and suck it in along this path.  But that shouldn’t be the norm.  As I’ve said over and over before-if we stuff our hearts full of unreleased feelings, we leave no room for the grace and mercy God wants to pour into them.

I can tell you that many, many folks have interviewed surviving siblings years and decades after their brother or sister left and have consistently discovered that most of them tried hard to live up to whatever standards their grieving parents set. 

If Mom and Dad refused to talk about the loss, then they refused to talk about it too.  If, on the other hand, the family observed open communication, they were able to process feelings in real time instead of stuffing and having to deal with them later.

family never gets over the death of a loved one

One of the greatest challenges in child loss (or any profound loss) is creating space within our closest grief circle to allow each person affected to express themselves whatever that looks like.  

But it’s so, so important!  

Don’t hide your tears.  

Don’t shut down the questions.  

Don’t lock away the uncertainty and anxiety child loss brings in a trunk and only bring it out when no one’s watching.  

Because the little people (and not so little people) in your house are ALWAYS watching.  

They need permission to grieve.  ❤

Capacity-to-grieve

Remembering the Ones Left Behind: Grieving Siblings

I realized the morning I received the news that an important part of my work as a grieving parent was going to be protecting and advocating for my living children.

It’s just so easy to fall into a habit of reciting only the good attributes of the child that has run ahead to heaven and to forget the ornery moments.

But sibling rivalry doesn’t die just because a sibling does.

It’s so, so important to remember that these living children need an engaged mama.  They need to know that they are loved, cherished and treasured.

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.

Read the rest here:  The Forgotten Ones: Grieving Siblings

Be Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

I’m pretty sure that every single grieving parent I know has gotten at least one private message, text or phone call that starts like this, “I know that I haven’t lost a child, but…” and ends with some sort of advice that seeks to correct a perceived flaw in how the parent is grieving (in public) his or her missing child.

I know I did.  It was the genesis of this post.

But before you hit “send” on that well-meaning missive, you need to know this:  

You have NO CLUE.

None.

Truly.

No matter if you lost a spouse, parent, close friend or favorite pet-it’s not the same thing.

It isn’t even the same thing if you have faced a season when your own child was near death due to accident or disease.

If your home has been demolished due to wind, fire or flood and all its contents lost forever-that is awful and tragic-but not comparable to watching the body of your child lowered beneath the ground.

Just like everyone else who uses social media, what you see in public does not reflect but a tiny corner of the whole picture.

I write every day about loss.  But loss is not all I experience 24/7.  I laugh, I love, I live. 

And while I may post my yearning for Dominic, I speak my heart to my living children every. single. day. 

kids at sea world 2017

My faith has been tried and tested.  I will not be false and pretend that just because I trust the finished work of Christ my heart has had it easy.  

But I’m still holding onto hope with both hands.  

My body has borne the brunt of anxiety and stress and grief.  You can see it in my eyes and in my hips.  

But I’m still standing.

My marriage has been stretched and strained.  

But we are still clinging to one another.  

beach hector and me and boys in sand

So before you suggest ways I might need to trim my sails,

just remember you aren’t sailing the same sea nor facing the same storms.  

before you tell a grieving parent to be grateful which of yours could you live without

Mind the Gap

My youngest son worked hard to retrieve some precious digital photos from an old laptop.

Being very kind, he didn’t tell me that we might have lost them until he was certain he had figured out a way to get them back.

So he and I had a trip down memory lane the other evening.

It was a bumpy ride.

Because for every sweet remembrance there was an equally painful realization that Dominic would never again be lined up alongside the rest of us in family pictures.

The British have a saying, “mind the gap” used to warn rail passengers to pay attention to the space between the train door and the platform.  It’s a dangerous opening that one must step over to avoid tripping, or worse.

I was reminded of that when I looked at those old pictures-my children are stair steps-averaging two years apart in age.

But now there will always be a gap between my second and fourth child-a space that threatens to undo me every time we line up for a picture.

I cannot forget that Dominic SHOULD be there.  I will never, ever be OK with the fact that he is missing.

To be honest, I miss him most when the rest of us are all together.  The space where he should be is highlighted because all the others are filled in.

No one else may notice, but I have to step carefully to keep from falling into a dark hole.

Mind the gap.

Be careful.

Don’t fall.

us at matts sunscreen

 

Not Funny Anymore

Dominic had a habit of managing to travel on his birthday and often into the summer months.  

He’d jump at every opportunity to go here, there and everywhere.

He had the heart of an adventurer and life on our little farm in the middle of rural Alabama didn’t often offer the excitement his heart craved.

So just after his first year in Law School, he chose to study abroad for a short semester in the spring of 2013.

The rest of us gathered for the traditional Father’s Day photo with my husband and I thought it would be funny (and probably irritate Dom a bit) if I held up a photo of him as a two-year-old since he wasn’t there.

all of us on Fathers day except dom 2013 sunscreen

 

It WAS funny at the time.

And he saw it half way around the world and thought so too.

It popped up in my Facebook memories yesterday.

It’s not funny anymore.  

Those broad smiles have been wiped right off our faces.  

Because the ONLY way we can include Dominic in ANY family pictures anymore is with a photograph.

And while we’ve yet to have as many years between us as in the picture I held up that day, they’re coming (if we live and the Lord tarries).  

I hate that.

grief is great

Grief is a Family Affair

One of the things I absolutely LOVED about having four kids was the way they pinged off one another.  There were evenings when the comments were flying so fast I could barely keep up.  Sly looks, secret texts, funny faces and friendly punches made up most of our times together.

That’s how families are-each person is just a little “more” when surrounded by folks that love and understand him or her.  

When Dominic left us, we didn’t only lose HIS companionship, we also lost the part of each of us that was reflected back from him.

dom looking up with camera

And just as each one of us had a unique relationship with him in life,we have a unique relationship with him in death.

Sure he was brother to all his siblings.

But he was a younger brother to the older two and older brother to our youngest.  He was a middle son but a third child.  He was close to his sister who shared his love of musical instruments, bonded with his younger brother over cars and butted heads with his older brother when he felt like he was bossed around.

boys

Dominic and I were both political junkies and loved to debate policy and current events.  We listened to NPR and compared notes.

He enjoyed talking sports with his dad and trying out different guitars and sound effects pedals as they jammed to the radio.

So how we remember him, what we miss, what we long for and what we hold onto is a reflection of the different way we interacted with him.

How much and how loud we express our grief is also a combination of our relationship with him and our innate personalities. 

Sometimes that is helpful-like when one of us can sit and listen to another because we are not so emotional at the moment.  Sometimes it causes frustration or even conflict when one or more of us feels that we need to DO a certain thing to remember Dominic and one or more of us is uncomfortable doing that very thing.

We’ve got to respect our differences, embrace them, make room for them even in this Valley.  

We ALL miss him.  That’s something we can agree on. 

We ALL would give anything to have him back.

And we are ALL in this together, even in our unique expressions of the same pain.

Grief is a family affair as much as life is. 

We learn, we grow, we adapt.  

And together we survive.  

beach-and-family-better

Why I Won’t Hide My Tears

It’s always a delicate balancing act when I’m with my living children and missing Dominic.  I never, ever want to elevate their brother to a level that says I love him more than them-because it isn’t true.

I didn’t love him more when he was living and I don’t love him more now that he’s dead.

But I do love him differently.

dom looking up with camera

 

I can no longer DO things for him.  I can’t buy him a special Christmas gift, send him a thoughtful text when he’s having a tough day, make his favorite dish because he’s coming home for the weekend.

I can only testify to the love I continue to carry in my heart and to the impact he made on my life.

THAT’S why I won’t hide my tears.

tears (1)

I won’t pretend that some things don’t sting, some moments don’t overwhelm my wall of defense against the grief waves that pound relentlessly against it, some smells or sights or memories don’t bowl me over and knock my heart to its knees.

Because not only am I testifying to the love I have for Dominic, I’m also testifying to the love I have for each of my children.

They can see with their own eyes that death will never sever the ties I have with them nor cut the bond of love that stretches like a silken cord between my heart and theirs.

kids at sea world 2017