Child Loss: A Letter to My Living Children

I never thought it possible to love you more than I already did.

But I do.

photo (20)

Your brother’s untimely departure has opened my heart in a whole new way to the glory that is your presence.  It has made me drink you in like water in the desert.

No more do I take even a moment for granted.  Never again will I be “too busy” to listen to you, to hug you, to greet you on the porch when you decide to make your way back home.

Read the rest here:  A Letter To My Living Children*

Should I Let My Young Children See Me Cry?

This was not my experience-all my children were adults when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven-but so many grieving parents want to know:  Should I let my younger children see me cry?

How much is too much for them to witness, process and hear?

Do I need to shield them from the awful truth of how much this hurts?  CAN I shield them?

It depends.

May I first say that there is NO way to shield even an infant from the overflowing emotions, stress and strain of child loss in his or her family.  If we stop and think about it, we know this.  And older children may look like they aren’t paying attention, but they are.

mother and child painting

So the question is not really, “Can I shield them” but is instead, “How do I help them understand what’s happening”?

Grief in this life is inevitable. 

Allowing our children to watch us grieve helps them understand how it’s done.  When we share openly, we give them tools and models for sharing too.

I think it’s important to be honest with even the youngest among us. 

When a parent speaks of the deep pain of loss, expresses love for the missing ones and looks longingly at photos and mementos, he or she is saying to the watching child: “Love lives.  Love is important.  Love lasts even when our bodies don’t.  I will always love you just like I love your brother (or sister).”

grief only exists where love lived first

Young children will create their own script if adults don’t help them write one.

Because their minds are not fully developed, they will often connect odd bits into an unhealthy whole.  Just as some children decide they are responsible for their parents’ divorce, some surviving siblings think that a random act of disobedience resulted in the death of a sister or brother.

And if a parent is modeling secrecy or a stiff upper lip, that child may never reveal her dark and weighty secret.

We can help our children by providing a safe space where they can express themselves freely without fear of correction or being silenced.  It might get ugly.  Our grief gets ugly.  It’s part of the process.

But children should never become the burden bearers for adults.

Crying in front of your child is OK.  Screaming, yelling, blaming and violence is not. 

No child should feel threatened or unsafe in his own home.  If you are out of control, THAT is the time to go to a room and close the door.  Or call a friend to come get the kids so you have a few hours alone.  Or send them outside to play.  It is NOT the time to unload on your surviving child(ren).

I wish that grief was not part of life.

But it is.  

How I deal with it, what I say about it, when and how I express it will impact my children for good or ill.  

I want to offer them tools they can use and build resilience for what they may face in the future.  

Letting them see me-especially the grieving me-is an important part of that process.  

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

 

I Don’t Have to Choose Between Sorrow and Celebration

Our family is looking forward to Spring and also dreading it.  

This year we will welcome a new baby (my first grandchild) and also celebrate my daughter’s wedding to a wonderful man. 

Our family is growing again!

brandon and fiona engagement

But we will also mark the fifth year anniversary of Dominic leaving for Heaven and another birthday that he won’t be here to greet.

dom on mountaintop

I’m pretty sure tears will be shed on each of these days and they will be salty-sweet, sad and happy, sorrowful and celebratory-all at once.  

There are no more hard lines in my life that separate events into distinct categories where only a single set of emotions is appropriate.  Instead my heart’s a watercolor mosaic where one feeling washes into another, darker colors make the lighter ones brighter.

My daughter recently wrote her own blog post, Guest Books & Memory Tables: A Sibling’s Perspective on Love and Loss.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Even Hobby Lobby reminds me that if I’m remembering anyone at my wedding it should be the family legends of generations past, not current. Somewhere in my carefully- packed boxes of wedding decorations, sits frames and mementos for mine and my fiance’s grandparents and my forever-frozen-in-time 23 year old brother.

I highly recommend you read the whole thing.  She’s done a beautiful job sharing from a sibling’s perspective.

Her wedding day will be full of great joy and celebration and also some sorrow as we take pictures of the whole family minus one.

 

you should be here

I might be laughing one minute and crying the next.  

And that’s OK.  

No need to fake it.  

It’s ALL part of life. 

sorrow and celebration can coexist authentically

Repost: 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.

Read the rest here:  Grief is a Family Affair

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