Another Bend In The Road

Life may be a highway but it’s not a straight one.

It’s full of bends, curves, switchbacks and long stretches with distant horizons.

For a gal who likes knowing where she’s headed and how long it might take to get there, it’s more than a little challenging.

Sometimes I’d want to get out and camp on the side of life’s highway, take a pause and just catch my breath before the next set of roller coaster hills forces me to hold on tight for the ride.

In nearly fifty-seven years I’ve hardly ever been able to do that. So here I am, barreling down the road again toward more curves and more changes.

My youngest son and my husband are on their way right now from the Left Coast driving a truck toward home. When they get here we’ll have to unload an apartment full of stuff from my hubby’s place out there into our already pretty stuffed house. We’ve lived a lot of life in these walls and I readily admit I’m a saver of memories and things that signify special moments.

So while they were packing and loading, I’ve been cleaning around here.

It’s been physically, mentally and emotionally difficult to drag my body and heart down memory lane.

A Short Walk Down Memory Lane from the 1990s | Chris Mercer

It’s just so hard-STILL– to touch things Dominic once touched and it takes my breath away. My heart has broken again over not only losing HIM but also losing the family I once had. We’ve all changed so. very. much. A mother can’t help but wonder if life for my surviving children might not be much brighter and easier if their brother were still here to share it.

Tiny bits of this and that force me to face things I’ve forgotten (sometimes on purpose) and feel things I’ve suppressed. It’s a grueling process.

I’ve had to take multiple breaks and simply walk away from the mess I’m creating in an effort to organize and downsize but I know it will be worth it in the end.

So I’ll keep on keeping on.

I’m sure this curve won’t be the last one.

Retirement here we come!

Many Kinds Of Grief: Eight Ways To Help Your Heart In Hard Times

Long time readers may have noticed that the past month there have been fewer original posts and more recycled ones.

I’m not sure precisely why, but it’s been a lot harder to put my thoughts and feelings into words than at any other time in this journey.

I’ve started and abandoned post after post. They languish in my “drafts” file and will, hopefully, eventually, be completed.

There’s just something about the rest of the world being forced to live in the no-man’s-land between what we used to take for granted and what we now have to face that makes it harder to talk about my personal experience.

Grief takes many forms and I believe the whole world is grieving now.

I can hear it. I can feel it.

All of us are facing (many for the first time!) the fact that control is largely an illusion. We climb into our vehicles and assume the person coming at us in the other lane will maintain their position but don’t know that he or she is distracted or medically impaired or drunk.

And then-BAM!-all bets are off. What we take for granted can change in an instant.

So I guess my challenge is in translating my particular grief into language others can understand and relate to.

For the first time I feel there’s a wider audience longing for the secret recipe to life after loss.

I know not every heart is suffering from physical loss of a loved one but I think there are some general principles I’ve learned that can help anyone who’s struggling to find a path through this difficult season:

  • Acknowledge what you’ve lost. It often helps to name what’s changed, what you miss, what you’ve had to give up. It may seem obvious but you might be surprised. When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I knew I’d no longer have HIM. But what I didn’t realize at first was that I also lost the family I once knew (we were all changed), the me I used to be and the life I thought I’d have. There are Secondary Losses hidden inside every grieving heart.
  • Face your feelings. Consider journaling your thoughts. Often speaking or writing out a feeling is the first step to dealing with it. Grief isn’t just one feeling-although we tend to think of it that way. It’s A Tangled Ball of Emotions. I had no clue until it was me trying to unravel the strands and understand what to do with them. Emotions will leak out somewhere. Are you short-tempered and cranky? There’s probably something underneath those outward signs.
  • Think about your strengths and coping skills. What has helped you get through tough times in the past? How can you use the same set of skills or tools to tackle this challenge? Child loss is the greatest and most difficult thing I’ve ever faced. If you had asked me in the first five minutes if I’d survive I would have told you, “no way”. But I have. Largely by leaning into my faith in Christ (which I know not everyone shares) and depending on coping skills I learned over the years dealing with chronic illness and other hard things. What have you survived in the past? Use that to get through this.
  • Stay connected to the people who matter most to you. Social distancing is an unfortunate label for what is actually physical distancing. Social media, smartphones, Skype, Zoom meetings and other electronic means of connection are widely available and can help a heart stay in touch with friends and loved ones. When someone feels isolated he or she is much more apt to give up and give in. Humans were made for community. If you can’t be physically next to people, find another way to get close and stay in touch. It might well require more effort but it’s worth it.
  • Make a new routine. It’s not just babies that thrive on schedules. We all need a semblance of control and normalcy. Eat at regular times. Set up a work station/school station if the virus is keeping you at home. If possible, make sure each day includes some physical activity and outdoor air. Exercise, hobbies, family story time or shared movies are all things that could be included. Try to go to bed and get up at about the same time each day. For several months after Dominic left us, I wrote each day’s plan on an index card. When I found myself at loose ends, sitting staring into space and sinking into despair, I consulted my card. I moved on to the next thing and eventually found I’d made it through yet another day.
  • Limit your media diet. Let’s face it-most of us are easily drawn into an “us vs. them” mentality. And once we begin to think in those terms it’s harder and harder to see beauty in the world. It’s one thing to remain informed and it’s another to be absorbed by all the things over which we have no control. Focus on smaller things-friends, family and community. That’s where a heart can make a difference.
  • Practice discernment and draw a line between what is inconvenient and what is truly tragic. Lots of things can FEEL like the end of the world but very few things actually ARE. Life has changed dramatically but it’s still life. Work and school look different. Masks are uncomfortable. Celebrations might be virtual. Shopping without trying on clothes is a hassle. But none of those things equate to death or loss of income or being unable to visit an elder in a nursing home. There are absolutely, positively tragic aspects to this experience and (sadly) one or more of them may visit your family. But unless and until they do, save your energy in fretting over (relatively) minor inconveniences.
  • Remember that there are more chapters to your story. All of us have dark pages in the books of our lives. Some of us have several chapters’ worth. But as long as there is life, there is hope. My family HAS survived child loss/sibling loss. We are different, we are wounded, but we have survived. Some of the things we have learned are truly beautiful (although we wouldn’t have chosen to learn them this way). If you listen and pay attention, you will learn things too.

Truth is, grief can drag you down so low you don’t remember which way is up, much less how to get there. No one knows that better than a bereaved parent.

Still, there are things you can do even there that will help your heart hold onto hope.

Where there is hope there is light.

And light will always, always chase away the shadows.

Learning To Bear The Burden


I told the two children with me that morning that we were going to survive this awful blow.

And we have.

It has been hard and ugly and more painful than anything else we’ve ever had to do. 

But we’re still standing.

And I want to encourage the hearts that are just starting down this broken road:  You really CAN make it.

Some of you reading this are saying, “But I don’t want to make it.  I want to lie down and give up and be out of this pain.”  

I don’t blame you. 

Read the rest here: Shifting The Weight, Bearing the Burden

Children Grieve Differently: Sibling Grief Reactions By Age Group


Grieving parents often face the additional challenge of trying to help their surviving children process the death of a sibling.

While there are many factors that influence how a particular child understands and works through his or her grief, age at time of bereavement plays a significant role.

Children’s grief can look very different than that of the adults around them.

And that grief may resurface later on as the child grows and matures, even long after the death of a loved one.

Read the rest here: Bereaved Parents Month Post: Sibling Grief Reactions By Age Group

Repost: 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.

Read the rest here: Mind the Gap

Standing At The Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

I want to be everything my living children need me to be.  

I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.  

I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.  

But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy. 

Read the rest here: Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

If It Happened Once, It Could Happen Again

I was reminded today how close fear sits to the door of my heart and to the door of the hearts of many bereaved parents.

Once again a mom shared an experience of not being able to get in touch with a surviving child and how that quickly spiraled downward to a frenzy of fear.

To some it may seem like an overreaction. But to those of us for whom the one thing you think won’t happen, HAS happened, it made perfect sense.

Before Dominic was killed on his motorcycle I had the normal parental misgivings about my kids driving here, there and everywhere. I always prayed for them and tossed a, “Be safe!” as they walked out the door with keys in hand.

I shook my head sadly, teared up and felt awful when I saw an accident report on the news.

But I lived in the protective bubble of never having actually experienced sudden, tragic loss and I was blissfully unaware of how quickly and how completely life could change.

Now I know.

And fear creeps up my back and takes hold of my heart in an instant if anything unusual prevents a loved one from answering his or her phone when I think they should.

In the first couple of years I could not stop it. I was at the mercy of my feelings and my mind was quickly overwhelmed with all the “what ifs” and would imagine every possible awful outcome.

Knowing Fear. | Still Standing Magazine

So our family put some simple protocols in place to help everyone’s heart.

We text or call when we arrive safely somewhere; we offer alternative phone numbers if traveling with others so there’s a second means of contact; we know that if one of us calls another repeatedly it’s important and regardless of where we are or what we are doing, we need to pick up; and if we are on a longer trip with multiple stops we provide an itinerary.

Now I’ve learned a bit better how to push irrational thoughts away, to focus on the probable and to allow a little time and space for someone to get back in touch with me.

It’s hard and requires great effort.

But I was reminded just the other day that no matter how hard you try or how much you work to push those feelings away, they can threaten to overtake you regardless.

My dad and I talk every morning. He texts me when he’s up and I call him when I’m done with morning chores. On his end, two texts, one hour apart, had gone through to my phone with no response. He finally called me because he was afraid something was wrong.

The same day, I began a conversation with my daughter by saying, “Your brother called…” at which point she immediately asked what happened. I realized my mistake for starting with those words and quickly assured her everything was just fine.

You never forget making or receiving that phone call delivering the unchangeable and unbelievable awful news.

I am still prone to jump to conclusions.

If it happened once, it can happen again.

But I’m trying hard to learn to live in a less friendly, less safe world than I once depended upon. So I aim my heart and mind in the direction of the most likely instead of the most awful.

On the best days, it works.

Child Loss: Mourning The Family I Thought I Would Have


I miss a lot of things since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

I miss HIM-his deep voice, his perspective and his thump-thump-thumping down the stairs and the rhythm of who he is.

And I miss how his absence has reshaped the family I thought I’d have.  

Read the rest here: Child Loss: Missing The Family I Thought I’d Have

Grieving As A Family

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

Read the rest here: Grief is a Family Affair

Mother’s Day 2020: A Letter From The Child Not Here

My daughter, Fiona, wrote this several years ago, in the voice of her brother who ran ahead to heaven.    

I am so thankful for her and so sorry that she has gained this wisdom at great cost.

Some of the bravest, most loving women I know are those who have suffered one of life’s greatest losses. I hope you know how truly beautiful you are. 

Dear Mom,

Read the rest here: From The Child Not Here on Mother’s Day.