Insights on Suicide: Janet Boxx

Janet Boxx tackles this topic with grit and grace.

It is important to understand how our expectations of others can lead them to feel as if they will never be good enough, never be strong enough and never be worthy of our love and compassion.

“We live in a culture that demands positivity. Obstacles are opportunities in disguise. If we can’t go around said obstacle, we must find a way over, through or under it. Nothing is impossible. We will overcome. We will conquer; by sheer force of will if necessary. And the underlying message is that, should we fail, we are incompetent or didn’t try hard enough.”

Read the rest of her post here: Insights on Suicide

Loving Well: Relational Acts of Kindness

Focusing on “Loving Well” has reminded me again of the dear friends and sisters who consistently, compassionately and sacrificially love me just when I need it most. They came last week for a visit and spoke courage to my heart once again.

Loving well takes time and effort and is costly.  But I think we represent Jesus best when we love extravagantly.

“You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”

– Amy Carmichael

I have two very special friends.

After Dominic died and the meals and visits and cards had dwindled and the silence and heartbreak had become oh-so-overwhelming, they came out to spend the day with me.

The whole day.

With me.

With this crying, couldn’t hold it together, didn’t know what to say mama who had buried her son just weeks ago.

They brought lunch.  And let me talk–or not. They didn’t try to fix me, didn’t offer platitudes or Bible verses to smooth things over when conversation lagged.  They hugged me and listened.

And they have been doing this every few weeks since.

It costs them a whole day and it’s 60 miles each way–but they keep coming and keep lifting me up so that grief and sorrow don’t drown me.

Social networks buzz with posts and tweets and Instagrams of “random acts of kindness”. That’s a good thing.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, those are easy.

We pick a stranger, discern a way to help (maybe paying for a meal or a coffee) and then both walk away feeling warm and fuzzy. No relationship, no comm

Relational Acts of Kindness are much harder.

We can’t just do our thing and leave.  Our hearts and resources are going to get tangled up with theirs.

It might get expensive.

That’s what my friends did.  They leaned into relationship with me even though it was messy, and hard, and costly.

So my challenge to you is this:  who do you know that could use a relational act of kindness?  A neighbor?  A distant relative? Someone who sits alone in a pew?

There is no greater kindness than coming alongside someone at just the moment they feel their strength is gone.

I know that without these friends I would not be able to bear my grief nearly so well.  I pray that God will bless them abundantly as they have been a blessing to me.

“Help carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.”  

~Galatians 6:2 GNT

 

Loving Well: Just Say His Name

I know you are afraid.

You think that speaking his name or sharing a memory or sending me a photo will add to my sorrow.

I understand.

But even when it costs me a split second of sharp pain, it is truly a gift to know that Dominic lives on in the hearts and minds of others.  It gives me courage to speak too.  It creates space where I can honor my son.

It helps keep him alive.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” ~Banksy

I know you’re busy.  I know your life is full and bustling with so many people and activities demanding attention that you don’t have any to spare.

It is easy to forget.

He wasn’t your child. The date of his homegoing isn’t etched into the marrow of your bones, it isn’t scribed on the inside of your eyelids.

Every time the calendar screams “12” I make one more chalkmark on my heart counting the days since I saw him last.

But please remember.  Please don’t let the day slip by and not acknowledge that it is as important a milestone to me and my family as his birthday.

I know you’re scared.

Death is scary.  Even for us who trust Jesus.  And the death of a child just trashes the notion that we are in control, that we can fully protect the ones we love from all harm.

But you are frightened of what you cannot comprehend.

I am living the reality of your greatest fear.

Be brave.  Step out and welcome me in.

Give space for the longing to hear my son’s name, to know my son matters, to relive some of the happy moments and funny times and even some of the hard days.

I can sit by myself and remember him.

But sharing him with you breathes life into the recollection and speaks hope to my heart.

It fuels the fire that helps me see that even when I’m not here to carry him into the land of those still living, someone else will do it for me.

Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.

—Anonymous

 

 

 

 

Love: The Reason I Grieve

If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.
—James O’Barr

I grieve because I love.

My tears are a gift to the son I miss.  My sorrow honors his memory.  My broken heart gives evidence to the ones walking with me that my love is fierce and timeless.

This love isn’t the romantic, gushy, flowers-and-chocolate love celebrated on Valentine’s Day–but the deep, abiding, sacrificial love that brands a mother’s soul.

The love that began in the first moments of knowing I would welcome a new child into our home.  The love that stayed away from certain foods and suffered through colds without medicine because there was LIFE inside of me–my body was no longer mine alone.

The love that poured forth nourishment from breasts and lived the first months at the mercy of his appetite.

The love that did without sleep–because what is a little rest compared to being solace for my crying child?

I would give anything for my children.  Even my own life.

But in the end, I didn’t have that choice.

Watching the young mother with her infant, the older mama and her child at play in a park, the joy and pride of the even older woman as her son or daughter graduates high school, college or gets married–how could anyone think a mother’s grief could be small?

How can all the love and all the hopes and all the dreams of a mama’s heart be squeezed into days or weeks or months of tears and sorrow?

If my son had lived, the rest of my life would not have been long enough to pour out the love I have for him.

It is not nearly long enough for me to show my surviving children how very much I cherish them.

So my grief will be large and lifelong–as big and unbounded as my love.  

It cannot be anything less.

Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.

—Earl Grollman

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Well: Understanding the Grieving Heart

In my last post I shared the difference between mourning and grief. While the outward ceremonies have long passed, the inward struggle to embrace and understand the pain and sorrow of losing my son continues.

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way bereaved parents encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate. And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

 

Loving Well: Transitioning From “Good-bye” to Grief

A funeral or memorial service seems like a final chapter.  We close the coffin, close the doors and everyone goes home.

But for bereaved parents and their surviving children, it’s not an end, it is a beginning.

Much like a wedding or birth serves as the threshold to a new way of life, a new commitment, a new understanding of who you are, burying a child does the same.

I walked away from the cemetary overwhelmed by the finality of death–not in a theological sense–I believe firmly that my son lives with Jesus–but with the undeniable fact that he is no longer available to me on this earth.

And in the days afterward, I was struck by the inadequacy of a funeral or memorial service to make space for the deep and ongoing sense of loss and pain and sorrow.

There is a difference between mourning and grief.  Although before losing Dominic I never bothered to notice.

I think we confuse the two on a regular basis.  I know I did.

Mourning is defined as “the outward signs and rituals associated with sorrow for a person’s death.  It is usually limited in time by social conventions or community expectations”.   

Mourning is the more or less public (depending on the family’s choices) “Good-bye” to their loved one.  It’s a circumscribed set of things we do and time we spend welcoming others into the space where we remember, make final arrangements for a body and celebrate the life that has left us.

In most North American communities, we have dispensed with the tradition of draping pictures, windows and ourselves for six months to a year to mark the home and heart of someone who has suffered loss.

What used to be a longer span of time allowing for special accommodations due to grief has now been squeezed into about two weeks.

Our hyper-drive world insists that even parents who bury a child show up to work, begin to participate and act like they have it “together” in public much sooner than our frail human bodies and broken hearts can manage.

Grief is more than a feeling.  It invades your heart, your mind, your body and your soul

Grief is the deep and poignant distress caused by bereavement..

It cannot be circumscribed by time and refuses to limit itself according to the expectations of others or even myself.  It will last (though perhaps not with the same intensity) as long as I live.

Because unlike a funeral, missing my son will not come to an end until I am reunited with him in heaven.

And we need to talk about this.

We need to help ourselves and others understand that grief changes who we are.  It changes how we perceive the world.  It alters our sense of self and impacts our relationships with others.

I am not as fragile as I was just weeks or months after Dominic’s death.  I have learned to put on a smile and pass by his favorite food in the grocery store without crying.  I can remember funny things he said or did without simultaneously experiencing gut-wrenching pain that he is no longer here to do them.

But I am still grieving.  

I am still working out how this missing is weaving itself into the fabric of who I am.

And it is WORK.

Much of the work I have to do on my own–I have to think about and feel and embrace the changes that have been thrust upon me.  But for some of the work, I need the help of others.  I need to be able to speak aloud my thoughts and feelings and receive feedback so that I’m not stuck in unfruitful inner dialogue.

It requires energy and resources.

While I am doing this grief work, my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy is largely consumed by it.  I am unavailable more often.  I have a smaller capacity to absorb sudden change and unexpected events. I’m uncomfortable in crowds.  I tire more easily.

And it takes TIME.  

I have discovered that no matter how much I want to speed up this process, it will not be hurried along.  And it proceeds in a “two-steps-forward-one-step-back” fashion so even when I feel I am making progress, I discover I’m not as far along as I think I am or would like to be.

So how to love well at this stage in my grief journey?  When I’m transitioning from “good-bye” to grief?  When I’m trying to understand this new life I never expected to live?

  • Acknowledge my ongoing pain and struggle.
  • Encourage me by allowing me to share honestly.
  • Be patient.  I want to heal but I don’t have control over how long it will take.
  • Don’t shut me out or shut me down.  Grief is uncomfortable for both of us.
  • Remember my son.  I need to know that others miss him too.

Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].

Romans 12:15 AMP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Well: Some Things Hurt

Before I lost Dominic, I know that I, like others who had never experienced the death of a child, undoubtedly said and did things that were hurtful instead of helpful.

I painfully remember sharing at a Thanksgiving women’s gathering and, meaning to encourage the ladies, said something like, “I think we are able to better face the big disappointments or trials in life, but find the daily drip, drip, drip of unfulfilled expectations to be a greater challenge.”

 A bereaved mom in attendance set me straight (in a very kind and gracious manner!).

That exchange has come often to my mind in these months after burying my son. I wish I could go back and have a do-over.

I hope that my pain has made me more compassionate, more sensitive to those around me.  I pray that I will extend grace and mercy to everyone I meet.  I want to be a light, not a candle-snuffer!

I’m convinced that most people want to bless and not hurt.

So here is a list of things (from my own experience and from the experience of others) that can be particularly damaging to bereaved parents when dealing with their loss:

Offering platitudes and quoting Bible verses is unhelpful.

Don’t say, “At least you have your other children.”  Which of your own children are you willing to give up?

“God needed another angel!” This is just bad theology as well as unhelpful.  God doesn’t need anything and my child is not an angel.  He is a redeemed member of the Body of Christ and in heaven with Jesus.

“He or she isn’t suffering anymore.”  That may very well be true, but it’s not comforting to hear it.

“All things work together for good…” I may believe that in my heart of hearts, and may come to feel it again one day, but in the days immediately following my son’s death, I didn’t need to be reminded.

“He (or she) wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  How do you know what my child would want? Being sad and expressing my pain honors his or her memory.

“God will use your son’s death to bring people to Jesus.” Yes, He might.  But He did not need my son to die in order for anyone to receive Christ.  He may use my son’s death, but I will speak honestly and say that I would not have exchanged Dominic’s life for anyone.

“It could have been worse” or any sentence beginning with, “At least…”. My child is dead.  I cannot have him back.  I’m sure there are more painful ways to lose a child besides a motorcycle accident,but it is a matter of degree, not kind. Just please, don’t.

“Don’t try to make your grief ‘equal’ to the parents. Sometimes in an effort to comfort we might say things like “I understand how you feel. I was devastated when my grandfather, or aunt, or best friend died”.  My mom and sister proceeded my daughter in death and their loss, as difficult as it was, didn’t even come close to how difficult it has been to lose her.  And don’t compare the loss of your beloved pet to the loss of someone’s child. JUST DON’T! Almost everyone I know who has lost a child has had their loss compared to that of someone’s pet. My daughter’s death was compared to that of someone’s pet lizard.”

Asking for details of the cause of death or the conditions surrounding the death of any child is not helpful.  If a parent wants to talk about it, listen.  Otherwise, keep curiosity in check.

“I did not appreciate [a close family member] persisting to know why our son took his own life. I don’t want to tell her as she will dwell on that forever and I want to celebrate his life, not his death. I also didn’t appreciate those folks telling me to stay strong. I am strong, but if I wanted to be a puddle, I am allowed to do that too.”

Please don’t label us as “strong”–you may mean it as a compliment but we hear it in many ways.  One way might be that we are not honoring our child by grieving hard enough.  Another way might be that we are expected to act strong even when we don’t feel strong.  Trust me, you have no idea what it costs a bereaved mama to hold back the tears.

“I get so tired of people telling me I’m so strong also. I too am a puddle often but no one sees me during these days alone.”

It’s true that no one can fully comprehend our pain if they have not felt it.  But it is possible to educate yourself about ways to support grieving parents.

“I wish people were more understanding but the problem with that is about the only way to understand is to go through it and I don’t want that for anyone.”

Please don’t withdraw from us as if we have a communicable disease.  I know it makes you uncomfortable to be around me and my grief.  It makes me uncomfortable too.  But companionship and encouragement can mean the difference between grieving well and being overwhelmed by sorrow.

“I wish one of my good friends had reached out to me more. See we both work for the school system so we had the summer off. I never once heard from that friend all summer. It really hurt.”

“When I got home my church family was there then suddenly I was home alone. Everybody left me home ”

Show up to the funeral.  Put aside petty differences.  Extend grace.  It’s not about you.

“His father didn’t even come. Not even to the funeral. No one brought food or sent flowers. Not even after the funeral. I was left alone a lot frightened and confused. Within a few months I was homeless.”

Be the church.  Be the person that writes notes weeks and months after the funeral. Check in with grieving parents and keep checking in.  Even if they don’t return a phone call, the act of letting them know you care is meaningful.

“After the funeral, there was a huge sense of abandonment from everyone. I don’t think that was intentional by anyone (except my family members, lovely!) but yeah…..there were hundreds of people at his funeral, and I probably didn’t know half of them. I wanted to thank people, but didn’t know who to thank! Lot of support, but when it was over…….it was over.”

“[Some close family members] were total jerks about the entire ordeal, so if there were anything really, I wish they had sucked up their egos and petty jealousies, and been there more for my other kids. I no longer have ties with them.”

“One huge topic that is discussed in my bereaved parents Facebook group is the response from the church for grieving parents. Sadly, most churches just don’t know what to do so they do…..nothing. Some are great for the first couple of weeks after the death and then….nothing. A very few provide the needed support in the months after such a devastating loss.”

Please don’t rush us to meet your timetable of when our grief should subside.  It will take as long as it takes.  Sometimes we can participate in life and sometimes we can’t.  Sometimes we smile, sometimes we cry– but we will always miss our child.

“People, for different reasons, want you to get back to normal. We can’t even remember what normal was ”

One of the biggest fears of bereaved parents is that their child will be forgotten. Don’t forget. Speak to them about their child.  Share memories.  Say their name.  Be present (even with a text, call or card) on important dates.

“No one would come for my son’s first anniversary. I was left home alone…abandoned felt like.”

Loss will enter everyone’s life at some point–there is no escape.

We educate ourselves (as we should) on so many issues–work hard not to offend, to understand, to reach out. Bereaved parents don’t want pity, they would like to be better understood.  We did not choose this journey, it was thrust upon us.

A little bit of kindness goes a long way.