Repost: Healthy Boundaries in Grief

As a people-pleasing first born who hates conflict, giving in has always been  easy for me. It’s only later that I wish I hadn’t.  

So for most of my life, setting personal boundaries has been challenging.

But in the aftermath of child loss, healthy boundaries are no longer optionalthey are necessary for survival.  

So what are healthy boundaries?

Read the rest here:  Healthy Boundaries in Grief

The Elephant in the Room

I’ve often been the person who refused to go along with some group’s plan to ignore a real issue and try to talk around it.  

I usually begin like this, “I know it’s hard to talk about, but let’s be honest and…”

I’m even more inclined in that direction now. If my son’s instant and untimely death has taught me anything, it’s taught me that there’s no use pretending.

So I’m not going to pretend:  Western society doesn’t do grief well.  

grief is often the elephant in the room

I’m not sure that was always the case but like so many other unpleasant, sad and/or uncomfortable aspects of life, we’ve sequestered grief to separate buildings and specialists. We’ve tried to clean it up and clear it away from the everyday.

Like they say, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

If we can hide it, we don’t have to deal with it. 

But I’m here to tell you, you WILL have to deal with it.  One day, one way or another, death will come knocking at YOUR door.  No one gets out of here alive.  

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  

Let’s stop ignoring death and grief and how one person’s departure for Heaven leaves others behind trying to deal with the loss, the pain, and the hole that missing life leaves in their hearts.

I know it will take effort to learn the language of grief.  It’s a lost language and it will feel strange on your tongue.  

The more you use it, the more you will realize that it’s really just the language of love with a slight accent.  There are a few more pauses between words, a bit more emphasis in some places and less in others.

And when you don’t know what to say, it’s fine to admit that. 

Just say, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I care.”

Because that means you see the elephant too.  

Should I DO Something? Yes. Absolutely.

It’s possible to stand frozen at the corner of good intentions and helpful action.

I’ve done it dozens of times.

And every time I’ve allowed myself to swallow “but I don’t know what to do” and done nothing I’ve regretted it.

Every. Single. Time.

So I’m here to tell you that when you get that urge, feel that itch, hear that still, small voice that says, “DO something“, then do it.

You may already have a good idea of what it is you need to do, but in case you don’t know exactly how to make a difference in the life of a heart hanging on by a thread, here are some things to get you started:

  • Text, message or write.  Sometimes a phone call is too hard for a weepy friend to answer.  Better to send something that she can read and answer when she is able to talk.  You can always ask, “Can I call you?  I really want to hear your voice.”
  • Deliver a meal or send a restaurant gift card.  Sometimes daily chores are overwhelming and having supper already decided often gives a little breathing room to a heart already struggling to breathe.
  • Offer to tag along.  Go with your friend to that required event or necessary appointment and be a safe space in the crowd, a buffer against too many unwanted questions.
  • Send flowers or a plant or almost anything sweet and unexpected.  There is something magical about the doorbell ringing and a beautiful surprise offered on the other side.
  • In the case of a grieving friend, photos of her loved one are always a wonderful gift.  In the age of digital everything, taking time to print and frame one or two is really special.
  • Clean the house.  When things are cluttered, dirty and messy, it reinforces a sense of futility.  Sometimes waking to a tidy space makes all the difference in whether a heart has the energy to get out of bed and start the day.
  • Run errands.  Things that are easy for most people can be overwhelming for a hurting heart.  Pick up the dry cleaning, buy stamps, grab some bread and milk.  Anything that can save extra stops on the way home from work.
  • Make a care package.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant.  If you know the person well, include small things that show you are thinking specifically about THEM.  A new journal, a pretty pen, a puzzle booklet, tea bags or anything that they might like will encourage a heart.
  • Take the kids where they need to go or just take them out for a fun time.  Parents often bear the burden of their own struggle and also the burden of knowing that same struggle is hurting their kids.  Doing some of the heavy lifting of getting children where they need to go helps so much.
  • Offer quiet companionship.  Just come over and sit with your sad or hurting friend.  If she chooses to talk, then listen.  But don’t feel you must fill the empty air with words.  Often silent support does more for a heart than all the sappy sentiments we like to toss at people when they are upset.
  • “Like” their social media posts.  You’d be surprised at how isolated a heart might feel in this age of hyper-connectivity.  If your hurting friend is bold enough to admit it publicly, then let her know you see that, affirm it and are not offended by the admission.  Sure it can be hard to hear the same sad song over and over but if it’s hard for you-and you can walk away or shut it down-how hard do you imagine it is for the person who cannot get away from the reality of living it?

Don’t ignore that voice that says, “Do something”.  

Showing up and choosing to walk with a hurting heart can make the difference between a person giving up or going on.

In the end, love is what we DO and not simply what we SAY.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

 

 

Bereaved Parents Month Post: What The Bereaved Need From Friends and Family During the Holidays

I’m taking the opportunity during July to re-post some articles that have been popular and helpful in the past.  

One of the most trying seasons for grieving parents extends from November through the first week of January. 

The holidays are hard for so many people, but especially for parents trying to navigate these family  focused holidays without the presence of a child that they love.

I know it’s still several months away, but once school starts it seems the weeks roll past faster and faster until suddenly there’s no time to plan and the day is upon us.

I highly recommend speaking to family and friends NOW.  Make plans NOW.  When folks have plenty of time to make adjustments, it is much more likely they will accommodate a grieving heart’s need for change.  

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.  

 

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

One Reason Why Grief Requires So Much Energy…

I’ve been doing this for a bit over four years now.

I’m pretty good at it in many ways-I’ve developed standard answers to common questions, figured out ways to keep my mouth shut when no answer I can think of is appropriate (literally biting my tongue), learned how to squelch tears and swallow sobs in public spaces, and (usually) how to avoid major triggers.

But navigating this territory is still exhausting.  

Because every. single. day. I have to make choices and make changes so I’m not overwhelmed and incapacitated by grief.  

And that takes a lot of energy.  Energy that’s not available for other things.  

Yet the world marches on and my responsibilities remain.  

It’s no wonder I flop in bed exhausted every night.  

I wrote this a couple years ago and it explains it well:  

One of the things I’ve been forced to embrace in the wake of child loss is that there are very few questions, experiences or feelings that are simple anymore.

“How many children do you have?”

A common, get-to-know-you question lobbed across tables, down pews and in the check-out line at the grocery store.  But for many bereaved parents, it can be a complex question that gets a different answer depending on who is asking and where we are.

Read the rest here:  It’s Complicated

[Mis] Perception

“I’ll believe it when I see it!”

That’s the standard, isn’t it?  We trust our eyes to tell us the truth.  We rely on our senses to winnow out the chaff of falsehood and leave us with the meaty grain of truth.

But what if my eyes aren’t as trustworthy as I think?

What if my perception is limited and unreliable?

Living in the south means long, hot summers.

In the middle of July I would sign an affidavit that it has to be at least 100 degrees outside and not much cooler inside unless I run my air conditioner to the tune of a huge electric bill.

But if I do a little digging, I find that the average high for July and August in my part of Alabama is only 90-91 degrees.

Now, that doesn’t mean there are no days hotter, but it does mean that my sense of interminable heat is inaccurate and untrue.  As a matter of fact, the average temp begins to decline mid-August when we are all panting for fall to make its appearance.

My point is this:  when I am sweating in the middle of summer, I’m not in a position to give you an accurate weather report.

All I know is that I am hot.

All I know is that I think I will be hot for days and weeks to come.  All I know is that a cool breeze would be welcome but it doesn’t seem to be in the offing anytime soon.

I don’t readily perceive the tiny creep toward cooler temperatures that is happening right under my nose.

It’s been the same way in my grief journey.

Four years in and I am definitely in a better mental, emotional and spiritual place than I was even a year ago.

But if you had asked me at any point during that time if I could perceive a shift toward healing, I would have said, “not really”.

I was (and am) relying on my senses to tell me where I am in this process of embracing the life I didn’t choose.  Yet they are easily overwhelmed by my daily experience-crying one day, laughing the next, undone by memories again, blessed by a friend’s text or phone call-filled to the brim with input.

I have a hard time sorting it out and looking objectively at what the data suggests.

When I can take a step back, I see that my heart has healed in some measure.  I have enfolded the truth that Dominic is not here into who I am and what my life will look like until I join him in heaven.

And understanding THAT helps me continue this journey.

braver stronger smarter

I don’t want to be stuck in the misperception that I can “never learn to live without my son”.

I am learning how to do just that.

I don’t like it.  I will NEVER like it.

But I am doing it.

Little by little, in tiny increments, every day reaching out, reaching forward and making choices that promote healing.

It’s happening.

Even if I can’t see it.

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

Barbara Bush, Bereavement and Being Brave

Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday, said she didn’t fear death. That may be because the 92-year-old former first lady faced it before, in the hardest way imaginable.

~Steve Hendrix, Washington Post article 4-18-18

Barbara Bush was many things-wife, mother, First Lady, spokesperson for literacy and charitable foundations. 

She was bold.

She was sometimes blunt. 

But she was always brave.

Barbara and george larger

Early in her marriage to George she faced what no parent ever wants to endure.  Her (then) only daughter, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia in the days when cancer was barely understood and often not even spoken aloud.

Because their family had the means, and because Barbara was committed to fight for her daughter, they flew to the East Coast and endured months of treatment that only delayed Robin’s death, but did not cure her.

They returned to their Texas home a family minus one.

I’ve thought a lot about the many, many years Barbara lived after that terrible blow.  I always do the math whenever any famous person who has buried a child follows their heart home to Jesus and reunion.

While there are days when I am utterly overwhelmed by the fact I may live for many decades with the burden of missing my son, days like today-when I have the bold, brave witness of Barbara Bush’s life to encourage me-I think I just might make it.  

barbara bush 2014

I long for my life to be just such a witness.  

I want to live well and fruitfully in the years I have left.  

I want to leave a legacy of love for those that come behind. 

I want to be brave. 

The death of a child is so painful, both emotionally and spiritually, that I truly wondered if my own heart and spirit would ever heal … I soon learned that I could help myself best by helping others … it wasn’t until Robin died that I truly threw myself into volunteer work. That precious little girl left our family a great legacy. I know George and I care more for every living person because of her. We learned firsthand the importance of reaching out to help because others had reached out to us during that crucial time.

~Barbara Bush (1925-2018)