Grief and Holidays: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.

I’m not asking you to stuff your feelings.  But I am asking you to weigh your disappointment in things being different against my unfathomable sorrow in burying my child.

And this is what I need from YOU:

Acknowledge my loss.  It doesn’t matter if it has been a few months, a few years or even decades-every single time the whole family gets together, the hole where my child SHOULD be is highlighted.  Other people may have moved on, and I am stronger now than I was, but the missing is as hard today as it was the day he left.  I need you to acknowledge that even if you don’t understand it.

Be flexible.  Every day is different for me.  And even if we did a certain thing last year, it may not be something I want to repeat.  Life circumstances continue to evolve-living children grow and marry, grandchildren make their appearance, health issues may emerge and change physical capabilities-life keeps on regardless of loss.  So this year is DIFFERENT than last year.  For everyone.  If we all embrace flexibility, there’s less opportunity for breakage.  Rubber bounces.  Glass shatters.  I don’t want my loss to be the central focus, but it’s a huge part of my experience and I can’t ignore it.  Help me, please.

Give me space.  Grant space in the larger picture-don’t make showing up to every family event a “mandatory option”.  Understand that even with planning and the best intentions, I may wake up and realize that I. just. can’t. do. it.  Or I may come, but leave early.  And grant space in the details-if I walk out of a room, let me go.  It may be helpful for one person to check on me after a few minutes but don’t send the calvary to drag me back.  I don’t always want to detract from a gathering and I may need to cry, or gather myself, or just sit silently remembering my son.

Give me time.  Time by itself does not heal anything.  But time is a critical component of healing.  If this is the first holiday season after loss, don’t pressure me with artificial deadlines about what I want to do or whether or not I’m going to participate in this or that. And even if it’s not the first season, I still need time.  It will be the third set of holidays after my son’s departure and I’m still feeling my way in the dark.  Don’t force me to decide if I can’t.  Just go on with your plans.  If I can join in, I will.  If I can’t, then I won’t.  That’s the best I can do.  It’s how I have to live every single day right now.

Grant mercy.  I will mess up.  I will say things in the passion of loss that I regret.  Overlook it.  Don’t lash out or hit back.  My emotional tank is so empty sometimes that it’s a wonder I can still feel anything.  I am truly trying. Grant mercy.

Extend grace.  Grace is lavishing love on the unlovely. Forgiving when someone doesn’t ask for it.  Doing something for someone and not expecting anything in return.  Step up and step out in faith that loving me will help me heal.  Even when you can’t see that it makes a difference. Don’t stop.  Don’t withdraw.

Know that this is not what I would have chosen.

Child loss happened TO me.

It is out of my control.

And the calendar pages keep turning.  Every holiday season means another year gone without the companionship of the child I miss.

I want to continue to embrace life, to enjoy my loved ones, to make new memories.  But I need your help to make it happen.

Don’t abandon me now.

compassion is a choice

Orlando: Beyond the Headlines

Let me begin by saying I purposely remove myself from the 24/7 news cycle that beats our ears and tries hard to hammer hearts into whatever shape a particular organization deems most meritorious.

So it is no surprise that I was unaware of the Orlando tragedy until well into the day on Sunday.

And I don’t know what the pundits and politicians or social media gurus are saying.

I only know how it feels.  

I know how it feels to have an officer come to your door and tell you that your child is never coming home.

I know how it feels to receive the devastating news that whatever you said the last time you saw or spoke to your child is the LAST thing you will ever have the opportunity to say to them.

I know how it feels to stand, dumbstruck and reeling, with the instant realization that your world has been wrecked beyond repair-To have to whisper to your heart, “you’ve got to make calls, make connections, make arrangements”.

Oh! My!  

Why, why, why can we not as a nation simply step back and embrace those who have lost so much instead of standing on the ruins of their lives and posturing for ratings, rankings and political, social or moral agendas????

I wrote before, when commenting  here on the incident at the Cincinatti zoo:

If we covered the stories of families who have lost children with the same zeal and creative journalism as we do the lives and deaths of endangered animals, that would change.

If the despair, heartbreak, brokenness and utter horror of bereaved parents’ lives were on display like the sickening piles of poached elephants and rhinos then at least we could have a discussion that was more informed and even-tempered.

We are a death avoidant culture-we splatter gore across the screen in video games and movies-but we DO NOT discuss the ongoing impact loss has on the ones left behind.

These lives are not numbers, they are not just names or a sweet little synoptic bio plastered on Twitter, Facebook or an AP newswire.  

They are people-with families, friends and loved ones.

There is a single, appropriate response to this tragedydeep mourning for the lives lost to hatred and violent action and prayer for the ones left behind.

I refuse to entertain the musings and posturing of ANYONE who does not first-and for an appropriate length of time-acknowledge the loss of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers-each a unique creation with an eternal soul.

Tears.

TEARS are what should be filling the airwaves, the streets, our altars.

weep with those who weep

 

 

Slow Fade

It would be easier, in a way, if it happened all at once.

If the vivid memories of his voice, his laugh, his body language, his sense of humor just disappeared-POOF!-now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t. Then I could make a single adjustment.

But that’s not how it is.  Instead, the living proof of his existence recedes like a wave from the shoreline, only there’s no returning surge to remind me of the force that was Dominic.

Each new day marks one more rotation of the earth, one more sunrise and sunset that places me further from the last time I saw him, the last time I heard his voice, the last time I hugged his neck.

And there is no cure for time marching on.  There is no “pause” button that I can push to let me catch my breath and allow my heart to comprehend the reality my body and mind must embrace.

Small mementos that are insignificant to those around me crumble to dust between my fingers.  Eventually I’m forced to sweep them up and put them away forever.

His friends find jobs, get married, have children-wonderful life events, things I celebrate with them-but they also remind me that he will never do those things.  I will never hold his child, relieved the labor is over, thrilled to see his eyes or nose in a tiny face looking back at me.

The subtle and constant change keeps me off-balance.  As soon as I think I have found my footing on this new plateau of loss, the earth moves beneath me and I’m stumbling once again.  

I came across this quote not long after Dominic left us.  When I first read it, I didn’t really understand.

But now I do.

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”

John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

 

 

When Time Shall Be No More

Tomorrow will be two years since my life was changed forever, 731 days since my heart was shattered, 17,544 hours since Dominic’s accident.

I never dreaded time the way I do now.  Gray hair and wrinkles didn’t faze me.  My children growing from babies to toddlers to high school graduates was exciting, not sad.

But now, I am oh, so aware, of the days and months that have passed since Dominic left us.  I look back to the years we had with him and hate to see them falling further and further into the past.

I look ahead  with ambivalence to the years that may lie between now and my reunion with the son I love and miss.

The Bible describes Heaven as a place where “time will be no more” and I’ve always considered that concept in terms of an unending opportunity to enjoy Jesus and those we love for ever and ever.

But something occurred to me the other day:  timelessness itself will be a gift unimaginable.

In this body, I am bound in time.  My life is divided into “before”  and “after”.  But there will be a day when it won’t be.

There will be a day when I will also inhabit the timeless eternity where Jesus reigns and Dominic resides.

I don’t know if I will remember the details of this life, the pain and the heartache-maybe, because Scripture tells me that God will wipe away every tear-but I firmly believe that I will be able to enter fully into the “now” of heaven’s timelessness without a sense of loss.

I will be free from this body of sin and death, free from the burden of grief and pain, free of the weight of sorrow.

For ever and ever. Amen.

Nothing that has cursed mankind shall exist any longer; the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be within the city. His servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name will be upon their foreheads. Night shall be no more; they have no more need for either lamplight or sunlight, for the Lord God will shed his light upon them and they shall reign as kings for timeless ages.

Revelation 22:3-5 Phillips

Gifts of Spring

I spend a lot of time outdoors and love to notice the small details that announce the changing seasons.

Just a week ago I began to see tiny purple flowers peeking through the winter brown and heralding Spring’s return. Yesterday I found the first shy violets lifting their heads and today green has spread across the pastures overnight until it fills more space than the drab gray patches left over from last year’s bounty.

IMG_1762

It is a good thing that the earth still turns and the seasons still roll.  It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promise:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22 NIV

New flowers, new life, longer days, brighter sunshine are gifts.

But they are also a reminder that another season has passed, another calendar page has been torn off, another year has rolled by without the companionship of the child I love.

One of the things I am learning in this grief journey is that pain and joy, gladness and sorrow, hope and regret will forever be mixed in the marrow of my bones.  Every smile will carry with it a tinge of sadness.  Every new memory made will conjure up an old one undone.

And this is a gift as well.

Contrast sharpens the edges of everything.  And death makes life more precious.

Now that I know, by experience, breath is fleeting and that no matter how carefully I plan, the future is not in my hands, I am free to live and love and inhale the fragrance of this one sacred moment because there just might not be another.

 And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

James 4:13-15 MSG

 

 

Spring Forward

I wrote and first posted this last fall,  when we ended Daylight Savings Time.  It struck me then, and strikes me now, that we continue to think that time is in our hands.  We break days into hours and hours into minutes like they belong to us.

But no one knows the number of our days except God.

“Every spring and every fall we dutifully make the rounds to our clocks and digital devices, putting them first forward an hour and then back in an attempt to make the days “longer”.

As if time was in our hands.

The sun rises and sets according to the Creator’s schedule, we can neither speed the world’s turning, nor slow it down.

We can only choose whether to be present in the moments He grants us.”

Read the rest of this post here:  Time Change