Gratitude and Grieving: Appreciating What I Have, Acknowledging What I Miss

Gratitude does not undo grief.  

There, I said it.

Gratitude is important.  It is (in my opinion) a necessary ingredient for a healthy and hope-filled and useful life.  It is the key to any real happiness a heart might find on this broken road.

But it cannot fill up the empty place where Dominic used to be.  

Grief does not preclude gratitude.  

Although some broken hearts swear it does.  They have convinced themselves that if they cannot have the one thing they really want, then nothing else matters. 

That’s a lie as well.

Grief is hard.  I am grieved because I no longer have the earthly companionship of one of my children.  But I refuse to dishonor Dominic’s memory and the life he lived by holding onto grief so hard that I squeeze out the love and life that is still available.

I am grateful AND grief-filled. 

I appreciate what I have: 

  • Three amazing children here and one in heaven.
  • A husband who loves me and works hard to provide for me.
  • Family and friends who care about me and love me well.
  • Food.
  • Shelter.
  • A home where animals (wild and otherwise!) bring me great comfort and pleasure.
  • Strength and relatively good health.

I acknowledge what I have lost: 

  • The earthly companionship of my son.
  • The family I once had-we are no longer an unbroken circle.
  • Secure confidence in the future.
  • Sense of who I am.
  • Unbridled joy.

These things are not mutually exclusive.  

Dark and light add contrast.  You need both to see the whole picture.

walked a mile robert browning

If you are struggling and believing either of the lies-that gratitude undoes grief OR that grief precludes gratitude-may I ask you to try something?

Make a list of BOTH.  

Give your heart permission to appreciate what you have AND acknowledge what you’ve lost.  

I truly believe that is the healing path.  

Holidays and Grief: Some Practical Ideas

It cannot be overstated:  holidays are extremely hard after loss.  Every family gathering highlights the hole where my son SHOULD be, but ISN’T.

There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to handle the holidays after losing a child.

For many, there is only survival-especially the very first year.

These days also stir great internal conflict:  I want to enjoy and celebrate my living children and my family still here while missing my son that isn’t. Emotions run high and are, oh so difficult to manage.

Read the rest here:  Practical Ideas for Dealing with the Holidays after Child Loss

Holidays and Grief: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

I know that every year I seem to need something different.  I know that’s confusing and may be frustrating.  But I’m working this out as I go.  I didn’t get a “how to” manual when I buried my son.  It’s new for me every year too.

So I’m trying to make it easier on all of us.  

I’m trying to be brave and think ahead and offer up what I can to help you understand.

Read the rest here:  Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Holidays and Grief: Having the Hard Conversations

You don’t have to bury a child to know that changing long-standing family traditions around holidays is a hard, hard thing.

Just ask a parent trying to work out Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time after an adult child marries.  Suddenly the way things have “always been” are no longer the way things are.

Holidays typically involve so many more people and family members than everyday get-togethers and each person brings expectations, emotions and personal history to the table.

So, that is why I decided to run this series of posts NOW.  Because one of the things I have learned over the years is that giving people time to adjust to change is a good thing.

Read the rest here:  Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

Holidays and Grief: Thanksgiving Plan

Thanksgiving is hard on my heart.

My birthday is usually close to, and sometimes on, Thanksgiving.  So we often celebrate them together.  What makes that especially painful for me since Dominic ran ahead to heaven is that the last birthday before he left was a surprise party at his apartment.

It was wonderful and loud and fun and filled with laughter and love. 

So all those good but achingly hard memories are wrapped up with the turkey and dressing.  

Thanksgiving has also been our family’s favorite holiday for opening our home to people.  No gift-giving expectations and abundant food made adding another chair to the table easy and fun.  Internationals, singles, widowers, and other families often joined us cramming the house as full as our stomachs.

So now when the gathering is intimate and one chair left unfilled, it echoes loudly to my heart that things are oh, so different!  

empty chair

The first year after Dominic ran ahead, we went out of town.  Our eldest son had married that summer and we visited him and his wife in West Virginia.  A power outage that lasted through Thanksgiving Day evening was a welcome, if slightly annoying, diversion from the heaviness of the first real holiday without Dominic.  Traveling used up some of what would have been long, empty days.  So, for us, it was the best thing to do that year.

The second year we kind of muddled through with a facsimile of years past.  it was a struggle and not at all comfortable for my heart.  I don’t really know what I was thinking or not thinking that year-the second year found me more anxious, less able to deal with my sadness and overwhelmed by unexpected grief waves that swept me under before I knew it.

The third year some very special friends invited us to join them for Thanksgiving.  They fixed all the food and we crowded together in their daughter’s apartment, packed in but jolly and very well loved.  Getting there involved an unpleasant and emotional discussion with extended family.  But the day was redeemed and it was exactly what I needed last year.

This year-well-I’m not entirely sure just yet. 

There are a number of factors keeping us from making definitive plans. My mother is still unwell and not able to travel.  One son will most likely be absent.  Some friends may need a place to land and a table around which to gather.

So my plan is to have a plan by early next week.  

I’ve done a few things so far:  purchased pretty paper plates, baked some goodies and put them in the freezer, got my Thanksgiving cards out (remember-I’m sending them instead of Christmas cards this year!), washed the big windows in the kitchen and living room, and begun putting out feelers to the lonely and abandoned in our circle to see if they are interested in coming for a meal.

The meal is the easy part.  Because in the end, as long as it ends with pie and chocolate, who really cares what you eat beforehand? 🙂

The hard part is the conversations. 

brene brown vulnerablity sounds like truth

The way I have to remind even those closest to me that this year will be just. as. hard. as every other year since Dominic left us.  The way I have to breathe deep and swallow words so I don’t burst out crying at the mention of who’s coming and who’s not-because Dominic will never come again.  The way I have to be very, very careful to balance all the emotional needs of family members and try to respect various requests for what’s important to their hearts.

I remind myself that I am not the focus of every event or holiday.  I am not the only one carrying emotional or physical burdens that require accommodation.  I am not given a pass to act ugly or pitch a fit or crawl in a hole and hide just because I buried a child.  

So I try to think ahead, ask ahead, make my needs known ahead and then I participate as fully as I can-with a smile and an open heart to the ones that still gather.

I refuse to turn every holiday into a battle and every meal into uncomfortable silence where people are afraid to say anything for fear of hurting my feelings.  

I honor Dominic by honoring those I have left. 

My heart may be broken, but it is also blessed.

I won’t let one overshadow the other.  

thanksgiving psalm 30_4

 

 

Holidays and Grief: You Need a Plan

When faced with the upcoming holidays and already rapid heartbeat and fading strength, the last thing a bereaved parent wants to hear is , “Make a plan”.

But the truth is, if you don’t it will be so. much. worse.  

fail to plan plan to fail

No one can tell YOU what the plan should be.  Each family is unique.  Each year brings different challenges-declining health, moves, children or grandchildren born and a dozen other variables that must be accounted for THIS year versus years past.

This will be our fourth set of holidays without Dominic and the one thing that has been, and continues to be, important is communication.  I need to communicate early enough and plainly enough to extended family what I and my immediate family can bear for this year.  If I don’t, there will be misunderstandings and hurt feelings all around. 

This year will be different than last year. 

That’s something surprising to me this side of child loss, nothing seems “fixed”.  No new tradition can take the place of the traditions we embraced before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  So every year I find myself feeling my way in the dark.

one bulb missingAnother important note:  Even though my loss is great I am not the only one whose heart should be honored this time of year.  I may not be able to participate in everything others want to do, but I can decline gracefully and encourage them to celebrate well without fear I’m upset about it.

If this is your very first holiday season after loss, I highly recommend keeping things low-key, whatever that looks like for you. 

Some families find that keeping tradition is helpful.  Some find it unbearably painful.  Some want to run away from familiar places and others want to wrap their hearts in shared memories.

Over the next few days I will be reposting past articles about how to survive the holidays after loss.  I hope they cast a little light on this hard topic.  Take what helps and leave the rest. 

It’s your call. 

Your life. 

Your heart. 

No one else gets to judge how you choose to do (or not do) the holidays. 

its ok to not feel like celebrating christmas

 

#thankful AND #broken

I wrote this post Thankful But Broken, in November, 2015-just barely 18 months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

If that’s how I felt THEN, it’s even more how I feel NOW.

Both the thankfulness and brokenness have burrowed deeper into my bones.

Losing the earthly companionship of a child I love has shattered my heart into so many fragments that I can’t find them, much less piece them back together.

But it has also made me oh, so aware of each day’s blessings and of each moment’s sacred holiness.

be-thankful-for-today-change-in-one-moment

I can receive more freely because so much has been stolen.  I appreciate what I have because I know what it is to long for what can never be again.  I can both hold onto and let go of people and things and trust that in the end all shall be well.  Because I know exactly what it feels like when all is most certainly NOT well.

The cracks in my heart make room for more love, more joy (muted though it is) and more thanksgiving than my whole heart could have ever held.

heals the broken heartedI am truly thankful.  AND truly broken.

So my November exercise is to embrace BOTH.

My ‘Thankfulness Journal” has two lines for each day:  “I am thankful for” and “I am broken over”.  Like the Psalmist, I choose to breathe out my brokenness in lament and breathe in the promises of God in gratitude.

I am sad and shattered that this life is hard.

I am encouraged and comforted that God is good.

I can admit both and still be faith-filled.

faith is deliberate confidence