Repost: Surviving Christmas

February, 1992 I came home from the hospital with our fourth baby and woke up the next morning to a house full of children ages infant to six.

I thought that would be the most stressful and challenging season of my life.

I was wrong.

Read the rest here:  Surviving Christmas

Surviving Siblings and Christmas

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How do I honor the child for whom memories are all I have and love well the children with whom I am still making memories?

That’s a question I ask myself often.

And it is especially difficult to answer for celebrations and holidays, special events and birthdays.

I’ve probably had it a bit easier than many bereaved parents.  

My children were all adults when Dominic left us for Heaven.

We have strong relationships and a track record of talking things through.  So I can ask them about what is helpful to them and tell them what is hard for me.  We all acknowledge that we are finding our way in the dark and that changing circumstances make it important to keep the lines of communication open.

We are experiencing our third set of holidays this year and have yet to establish a pattern or routine that works every time.

But here are some things we are learning together-some things my children are teaching me about surviving siblings and Christmas:

  • Parents shouldn’t try to hide their grief.  This one is hard.  As moms and dads we want so badly to create a safe world for our children-even our adult children!  Yet we know by painful experience that it is impossible.  When I try to hide my grief (which I cannot do successfully) I’m adding stress to an already stress-filled situation.  That grief is going to escape somewhere-if not in tears, then in raised voices, impatient looks and short tempers.  Children (even very young children) know that you are sad.  Let them know by your example that it’s OK to be sad.  Share your heart (in age-appropriate ways) and by doing so, give them permission to grieve as well.
  • Don’t force your child to grieve the same way you do.  Some children find it easier to be open about emotions than others.  The outward emotional expression of grief is different in each person.  For some it looks like what we expect: tears, sadness, sorrow. For others it may look like anger or denial or an unwavering commitment to “keep everything the same”.  Some children become very anxious about the safety of other family members. Some may remain stoic-don’t force emotional responses. Do some reading/research on grief in children and be prepared for the different ways a child may express their pain.
  • Ask you child(ren) how they feel about certain events/traditions/remembrance ideas. Even young children may have strong opinions about what feels good and what feels awful.  It’s tough to find a balance among competing needs but at least knowing how different family members are experiencing the holiday gives parents an idea of how it might be accomplished.  Sometimes surviving siblings can help parents find a creative solution to the quandary of how to honor the missing child and how to bless surviving children.
  • Don’t require that your child(ren) participate in every event or gathering. This is especially helpful for older children-but parents should be sensitive to the young ones as well.  Give your child(ren) permission to say, “no” if they don’t want to be part of a particular event. Some parents want to do balloon releases or light candles at a special service for their missing child. What’s healing for the parent may not be healing for a surviving sibling. That’s OK.  Do the same for family gatherings.  Don’t force a sibling to contribute a “favorite memory” or “story” during a family memorial time.
  • Grant space and remain flexible.  Things that sound like a good idea while still far off on the calendar can feel overwhelming as the day approaches.  Sometimes no matter how much I WANT to do something, I. just. can’t.  It’s the same for surviving siblings.  Be gracious and allow for changing feelings/circumstances.  They may truly wish they could commit or participate but realize that when the day is here, they just don’t have the emotional energy to do it.
  • On the other hand, be alert if a child withdraws completely.  Withdrawal may be a silent scream for help.  The pain may have become too great to process but the child doesn’t know how to ask for help.  You are the parent.  You can’t “fix” your child.  But you can take him or her by the hand and lead them to someone who can discern the best way to give them the skills to cope with the loss of their sibling.
  • Affirm your living child(ren).  Let them know that you love them in ways that are most meaningful to them.  Every person has a unique “love language”-a preferred way to be loved.  Learning what speaks to your child(ren)’s heart helps to ensure that they don’t feel forgotten or overlooked even as you grieve the child that is missing from your family circle.
  • Express appreciation for your child(ren)’s continued support for your own grief. My kids are a vital part of my grief support system-just as I am for them.  We all love Dominic and our hearts all hurt and miss him.  I am thankful every minute of every day that they listen to me, let me cry and love me through hard moments.
  • Understand that sometimes your surviving child(ren) might need to leave the missing sibling behind or set him or her aside for an event or celebration.  It’s hard to remain in the shadow of “the one gone before”.  They may not want that special day to be referenced as “so many days/months/years since we lost ______”.  Of course our mama or daddy hearts can’t help but think of it that way!  BUT-this is THEIR day, THEIR moment.  Let them have it.  It takes nothing away from your love for the missing child to affirm and lavish love on the child you can still hold.
  • Remember, that just like for you-each year may be different.  What works one time may not work this time.  Extend, and be willing to receive, grace  

I am trying hard to love and honor and support the children still with me and also make room for Dominic, who lives in our hearts.

It’s a delicate balancing act on a spiderweb of intersecting strings-I’m still learning and it’s hard.  

But love is ALWAYS worth the cost.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

 

 

Trying To Navigate at 90 Miles an Hour

washington-with-traffic

I will never forget it.

Our family was driving through Washington, D.C. at rush hour (poor planning, I know!) and got lost.

Not utterly, hopelessly lost-but definitely turned around.

Multiple lanes of traffic, unfamiliar signs, lots and lots of cars traveling way. too. fast.

My husband was driving and I was trying to read the map-trying to make sense of where we were and where we needed to be but I couldn’t do it fast enough to make a difference.

As soon as I determined which lane we should be in, which exit we should take, we had passed it.

In frustration, my husband finally just stoppedin the middle of the road on a small patch of no-man’s-land between two diverging lanes.  I was scared to death.

police-car-lego

And then a police car pulled up behind us.

The officer got out and asked what was going on.  We explained our dilemma and he led us out of the maze of confusing options to the right road and we were on our way.

So many days I feel just like I did those years ago-confused, frightened, trying desperately to figure out which way to go but never able to slow down enough to really get a good look at the map.

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I feel like I’m trying to navigate strange streets going 90 MPH.

Hurry up!

Should I turn right or left?

Did I just miss my exit?

I have no idea.

The destination is sure:  I will leave this place and join my son in Heaven.  But the path is winding and challenging and hard to figure out.

I can’t get out of the car called “Life” and wait until I have a clear route marked before me.

Sometimes I manage to get where I want to go.  Sometimes I don’t.

Some days and some events turn out resembling how I thought they should. Many don’t.

So I keep on keeping on.  

I’m navigating with the tools at hand and hoping for the best.

world-doesnt-stop-for-your-grief

 

 

He Knows My Sorrow

There are many days when I cannot talk myself out of sorrow.  Moments when I can’t distract my heart from the pain of missing Dominic.

So I don’t try.

Instead I remind myself of the fact that I serve a Suffering Savior.

I follow a Gentle Shepherd.  I can trust a Compassionate Father.

I turn to God’s Word to encourage my heart.

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG

Jesus knows my suffering.  He understands my pain.  

Yet it was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sick-to-the-soul-ness. We just figured that God had rejected him, that God was the reason he hurt so badly.

Isaiah 53:4 VOICE

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God has promised blessing to mourners, He has promised comfort to hurting hearts.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Matthew 5:4 NIV

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The LORD will heal my heart-if not here, then in Heaven. 

He is the healer of the brokenhearted. He is the one who bandages their wounds.

Psalm 147:3 GW

God will comfort me so that I can comfort others. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble

2 Corinthians 1:3,4

Jesus will not abandon me in my despair.  He will uphold me when my own strength is gone.  

Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories.

Isaiah 41:10 CEV

no one can snatch them

My Shepherd is right here with me. He will not leave me alone.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me

Psalm 23:4 NKJV

My son is not dead.  He is alive with Christ.  And he will be raised in the final day.

And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

I Thessalonians 4:13,14 MSG

death-swallowed

Death has been swallowed up in victory.

The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. … So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’

1 Corinthians 15:52,54 NKJV

Every single thing the enemy has stolen, killed or destroyed will be redeemed and restored.

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away

Revelations 21:4 NKJV

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Repost: Am I Normal?

 

grief not a disorder

There is so. much. pressure. on grieving parents during the holidays!

A constant tension between the world celebrating the “season of joy” and a heart that carries great sorrow.

Perhaps more than any other time of the year we may ask the question:

Am I Normal?

Magical Bear Traps

 

My heart hurts every time a name is added to this awful “club” no one wants to join.

One more family knows our pain.

One more family has an empty chair at holiday gatherings.

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But I am thankful for the moms and dads that share their hearts in bereaved parents’ groups.  I’m thankful for the safe space to speak honestly about what this life feels like and the challenges that greet us in this Valley.

A  fellow waiting mom, Brenda Ehly, shared this on her personal Facebook page.  I asked her if I could post it here and she graciously gave me permission:

“So, every now and then, I am asked, ‘How are you?’

Just in case any of them meant, ‘What is it like to be grieving a child during the holiday season?’ let me try to explain:

First, imagine you have stepped into a bear trap.

bear-trap

It hurts.

A lot.

Sadly, it’s a magical bear trap, that you will never be able to remove. (That’s your initial loss). Weirdly, after awhile, you sort of (not exactly) get used to it.

Now, imagine that at completely random intervals, a large bear suddenly appears, and, mistakenly thinking that you’re the one who’s been setting bear traps in the forest, repeatedly punches you in the nose.

Hard.

This bear throws one heck of a punch. (This is what happens when you go shopping at the grocery store and Andy Williams croons, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” at you).

So, is it all miserable, all the time?

raccon-with-coffe

Absolutely not; every now and then, an adorable, enchanted raccoon brings you a tall mocha and a blueberry scone, and that is very nice, because even if you’re stuck in a magical (and excruciatingly painful) bear trap, a tall mocha and a fresh scone are still welcome and refreshing.

There.

That’s the best I can do right now.”

Love Tokens

missing-someone

I keep it in my pocket-  

an old trinket or a square of fabric or a small photo in a tiny frame.

heart and wood

A little bit of you to hold when I am overwhelmed.

It’s my touchstone, my way of shutting out the world for just a moment –tuning in to love and holding on to hope.

I hold you near so that I can hold on.

No one ever knows how close I come to shouting, “I can’t do this anymore!”

Because I never do.

shameNo one hears the pieces of my shattered heart fall to the floor.

Because only those who share this pain have ears to hear.

just-breatheNo one is aware of my counting breaths-in and out, in and out-just so I can stay in my chair.

Because I never run away.