Holiday Planning Helps for Grieving Parents

As much as I hate the mashup of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas that assaults my senses every time I walk into a store, it IS a reminder that, like it or not, the holidays are coming.

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I wrote these posts a few weeks back so that grieving parents and their families could begin to think about and make plans for year-end celebrations.

I know it’s hard-it continues to be hard for me as I approach the third (!) set of holidays without one of my children at the table.

But it is harder without a plan. 

So here are links to the posts.  I pray they are a small help for heartbroken mamas and daddies:

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Grief and Holiday Plans: Working Out the Details

 

 

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Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

 

 

 

its hurting again

 

 

 

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

 

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Practical Ideas for Dealing with the Holidays after Child Loss

Accommodating Grief

The doctor I see every six months or so for my rheumatoid arthritis always fusses at me.

One of the routine questions is, “How’s your pain level?”

I usually say, “About a three.”

And then she looks at my hands and my feet-at the swollen joints and twisted toes-and shakes her head.

But here’s the deal:  sure they hurt, sure I can’t do all the things I used to do, sure I have to do many things differently than I did them when my hands and feet were unaffected by this disease-but I’m STILL moving and doing what needs to be done.

I don’t really know how to do anything else.

And that’s how it is with this grief I lug around-it’s heavier some days than others-but I’m STILL moving and doing what needs to be done.

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This is not the life I thought I would be living, but it’s the life I have.

So I make accommodations for my sorrow just like I make accommodations for my hurting hands and crooked toes.

  • I try not to over-schedule my days.  If I have an appointment I mark it on the calendar and refuse to pile other commitments on top of it.  That way if I’m wiped out I have some built in down time.
  • I prioritize what needs to be done.  Whether it is for a week or a day, I jot down a list (still using paper-but a phone would work) and then decide what are the two or three MOST important tasks that must be done in that time frame.  If I find myself running behind because it’s a hard grief day (or week), I can quickly make choices that ensure the needful things are done and the others laid aside for when I have more energy to do them.  I’m less anxious about what I don’t get finished because I know I did the most important things first.
  • I build rest into my days.  When I’m overtired, I’m more susceptible to grief attacks. I pause every now and then to sit or take a quick walk outside or simply change my work from detail-oriented to broad strokes.  I have more flexibility because I work at home but even in an office it’s possible.  My husband walks every day on his lunch hour-sunshine and physical activity make his afternoons easier to bear.
  • I ask for help. When I’m drowning in grief, I reach out for a lifeline.  There’s no shame in asking for help.  I have a good friend that I can text or call anytime I need to and ask for prayer or a listening ear.  I belong to a couple of online grief groups and they are full of people who understand my pain and will lift me up in prayer and encourage my heart when it feels especially broken.
  • I accept my limitations.  My toes don’t allow me to wear beautiful shoes anymore so I’ve learned to wear what fits instead of what’s in fashion.  I am not the same person I was before I buried a child so I’m learning to live with the new me.  I don’t like crowds.  I don’t like unexpected change.  I feel anxious in unfamiliar places and around strangers.  I make choices that limit my exposure to those things when possible.
  • I shake off the really awful day.  I can’t help that some days take a nosedive into terrible as soon as I leave the bed. I admit that grieving is hard, that it will continue to be hard.  But I won’t let my worst days be my only days.

I am not in control of everything, but I can control some things.

I would not have chosen this life for myself, but I can make choices that help make it bearable.

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You Can Only Hold On To What You Refuse to Let Go Of

Those hours before I planted one last kiss on my son’s forehead, I held his hand.  

I nodded at the people filing past to pay their respects with my arm tucked behind me, desperate to cling to my child.

no one can snatch them

And I’m still clinging.  

I will not let him go.  

I don’t care how many days or months or years march on taking me further from the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand or the brightness of his smile-I refuse to release my grasp.

It’s hard for someone who has never buried a child to understand why we who have are compelled to speak about them, to post pictures of them, to air our great grief and share our great hope of reunion.

I didn’t have a clue before it was me.

But this is all we have.

There will be no new experiences, no fresh memories, no photos marking higher achievements or life passages.  

So I will hold onto Dominic as a little boy who was so stubborn he would sit in the floor and cry in frustration because he couldn’t yet crawl.

I will hold onto Dominic as a young man who could argue anyone under the table until they gave in because, right or wrong, he wasn’t giving up.

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I will hold onto Dominic who taught himself how to play the drums and pounded away when I took my daily walk so that it wouldn’t be too loud for my ears.

I will hold onto Dominic who talked his way into a program that admitted few students even though he had missed the first semester of classes.

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I will hold onto Dominic who could fight like a banty rooster when he was mad but be as tender as a mother hen with someone who was hurting.

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I will hold onto Dominic who would have never wanted this for me, who would have done anything he could to prevent this great sorrow resting on my shoulders.

I refuse to let go.

Because he is my son.

There is no past tense for a mother’s love.  

as long as I live

Relentlessly Forward

The sharp shard stabs deep when I’m unprepared.

Drifting off to sleep

Driving down the road

Doing the laundry.

He’s not here.

He’s not coming back.

His living presence is taken from me.

His smile,

Unseen.

His voice,

Unheard.

His arms,

Out of reach.

Untouchable.

And the gap widens every day

Between the last time and this moment.

No way to slow it down.

No path to go back.

pencil-drawing-bereaved-mother

 

 

Grief and Grace:What I Need from Friends and Family

You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.

You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall.  He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.

He never made it home.

So when I come out of the room red-eyed, teary and quiet, please don’t look at me like I’m a freak.

Please don’t corner me and ask, “What’s wrong?” Or worse-please, please, please don’t suggest I should be “over it by now”.

If you were reading a novel or watching a movie, you’d show more grace.

You would nod in understanding as the main character made choices that reflected the pain of his past.  You would find his behavior perfectly predictable in the context of a life lived with a broken heart.

I can’t control what makes me cry.  I can’t stop the memories flooding my mind or the pain seizing my heart.

I might be OK one minute and the next a blubbering mess. Grief doesn’t mind a schedule.

But there are some things you can do to help:

  • If you are aware of the circumstances around my child’s death, be thoughtful when highlighting similar situations in conversation, in movie choice, in recommending books or news stories.  I bump into reminders all the time, I don’t need to have them forced upon me.
  • It can be particularly hard to celebrate milestones in another child’s life when that child is about the same age as the one I buried.  Feel free to invite me, but give grace if I choose not to attend a birthday, graduation or wedding.  I’m doing the best I can and I don’t want to detract from the celebration so sometimes I bow out.
  • Ask me if, or how,  I would like my missing child included in family gatherings. Sometimes I want his memory highlighted and sometimes I want to hold it close like a personal treasure.  It might be different one year to the next. Just ask.
  • Be sensitive to the calendar.  Make a note of my child’s birthday, heaven day, date of the funeral or memorial service-these are important dates for me and they will be as long as I live.  In the first months, maybe for years, each month is a reminder that I am that much further from the last time I heard his voice, hugged his neck or saw his living face.  Those days are especially hard.
  • Don’t pressure me to move faster in my grief journey.  And don’t interpret a single encounter as the measure of how I’m doing.  Be aware that it is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of experience.  It is MY experience and will go as fast or as slow as it does.  I can’t even hurry it along even though sometimes I am desperate to do so.
  • Understand that the things I may share don’t paint a total picture.  There are pains too deep, thoughts too tortuous, experiences surrounding my son’s death and burial too hurtful for me to speak aloud.

I admit that I never thought of any of these things until it was MY son missing.

But now I think about them all the timenot only for my sake, but for the sake of others like me. I try to walk gently and kindly, extending grace and love.

And honestly, that’s really all I want from anyone else-grace, abundant grace.

I will be weepy when it’s inconvenient.  I will react when you can’t fathom why.  I will stay away when you want me to come near.  I will make choices you don’t understand.

I am truly sorry.

But child loss is not something I chose for myself, it was thrust upon me.

I am walking this path the best I know how.

When you extend grace and love me through the roughest places it makes all the difference.

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Celebrating the Small Victories

This journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

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If I keep my eyes focused on the miles I’ve yet to trod, I can be discouraged and tempted to give up.

But if I think about the miles I’ve covered and the progress toward healing that has occurred, I can gain strength to keep on going.

It’s hard.

That’s not going to change.

I have mountains yet to climb.  I won’t always be victorious-I’ll suffer setbacks.

But today, I’m celebrating several small victories:

I spent two hours laughing hysterically with a friend over lunch.

We were so loud and having so much fun that the wait staff was undoubtedly convinced we had enjoyed a liquid lunch although we didn’t drink anything stronger than water.  And it felt GOOD.

friends-laughing

I am teaching again.

Since I was a little girl lining my dolls up for pretend school, my heart has been inclined toward teaching.  Through the years I’ve taught Sunday School, seminars, parenting classes, speech classes and my own children from kindergarten through high school.  But it’s been awhile-a long while since I’ve had the energy to be the focus of a room full of people.  It’s just a small class on Sunday nights, but it’s a start.

I cut my hair.

Now, you are wondering how is that a victory?  But in the throes of despair after Dominic left us, I vowed that I would never cut it.  Because (this is the biology nerd in me) my hair contained the only cells in my body that would not be shed and renewed.  I wanted this physical part of me that existed when he was still here as a reminder of just how long it had been since I hugged him or heard his voice.  But the other day I knew it was time.  So before I could lose my nerve I did it.  And I’m glad.  He would definitely approve!

I baked shortbread for my mother’s birthday.

shortbread

Family celebrations are still very hard. When we are together, the hole where Dominic should be is that much more apparent. And shortbread was one of the only things that could tempt my fitness fanatic son to break training and indulge his sweet tooth.  So I haven’t made it since before he left us.  But it’s Mama’s favorite too.  And I’m learning to experience these memories wrapped up in doing things we did BEFORE as a blessing instead of only as a painful reminder that Dominic is gone.

You may be very fresh in your grief.  You may despair of ever making headway toward healing.  You may FEEL like you will ALWAYS be held under the tidal wave of sorrow.

It does seem that way for a very long time-longer for some people than others and definitely longer than we would hope.  

But please be encouraged!

Your victories will look different than mine, but they will come. If you face the pain and do the work grief requires, you can begin to heal.

No, you will never be the same.

I’m not.

I don’t want to be.

Burying a child has taught me many things for which I am grateful and the pain I carry is a testimony to the love I have for my son.

But I am learning to live again.

One small victory at at time.

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Courage is a Heart Word

Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad.

~Brene Brown

I grew up in the Deep South where ladies were supposed to keep silent about anything “unmentionable”.

Problem is, that included many things that SHOULD be spoken aloud.

Because a conspiracy of silence forces those who are suffering to hide.  It creates huge gaps between what goes on behind closed doors and public image.

And it causes those who are wounded to question the authenticity of their own experience.

In recent years we have dragged many topics into the light.  We’ve made space in the public square for discussion of things we used to pretend didn’t exist.

But life after child loss is still a hushed topic.

The long road to healing after burying a child is rarely acknowledged outside the community of bereaved parents.

The FACT that as long as I live, my son’s absence will be a shadow trailing me, the burden of sorrow will slow my steps, the heartache of missing will shape my world is glossed over and set aside.

I understand why.

It is scary to speak aloud what you hope will never happen to you.  It’s unbelievably frightening to admit that we really have no control over whether, or when, we or the ones we love might leave this world.

But I am not going to keep silent.

Not because I want pity or special treatment, but because I want that parent who just buried his or her child to know that you. are. not. alone.

I want you to know that what you are experiencing is not unusual.

I want you to understand that the horrible pain you feel is absolutely normal.

And I want you to be assured that you are NOT Crazy!

I will tell my story because even though it is hard, it matters.  And even though it hurts, it can help heal another.  And even though it isn’t finished, it can blaze a trail for others to follow.

Join me, be BRAVE, tell yours.

 

 

Thanks for Listening!

One year ago today I began sharing my grief journey publicly on this blog.

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You can read that first post here.

 

It was (and still is) scary to expose my thoughts and feelings to a wider audience than just the pages of my personal journal.

I’m never certain that what is helpful for me is necessarily helpful for anyone else.  But in writing it down I find that I am able to sort through things better than when I leave it bouncing around in my own head space.

I decided upfront that I would be as honest as possible about what I felt and how I was coping.  I wasn’t sure if I would post only a few times or a lot, if it would turn into a day-by-day diary or a more sweeping revelation of deeper things.

I think it’s kind of been both at times.

And here we are, 366 days (it was a leap year) and  355 posts later and I’m still here and you’re still listening.

I don’t claim to have any special gifting or knowledge or ability.  I am simply one mama whose love for both her child in heaven and her children still here demands that I speak out.

My heart is full of  love and pain.

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And my heart has been blessed beyond measure by those who read and share what I have written.  I’ve met-in person and virtually-many bereaved parents who are helping me as I continue down this road.

I am so very thankful for each one.

I pray that for those who read these words and know the pain of burying a child, I am speaking things you may think or feel but are not willing or able to express.

And I pray that in hearing them spoken aloud, you are affirmed and encouraged that you. are. not. alone.

Dominic matters.  

Your child matters.  

It’s not only OK but absolutely necessary to admit that life after child loss is a struggle.  It is also just fine to take your time working through the pain and sorrow and overwhelming changes child loss brings.

For those who read my posts and do not share this pain, I pray you gain insight into what bereaved parents feel and how burying a child changes EVERYTHING.

I hope you are better equipped to offer the ongoing support we need and crave.  I hope you learn that this is not something we have chosen, it is something that happened to us. 

And I pray that all of us will be more willing to extend grace, mercy and love to one another.

Words are not neutral.  

They bring life or death.

They wound or heal.

May each of us be an instrument of healing for someone’s hurting heart.   

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Twelve

There are twelve tribes and twelve disciples.

Twelve stones in the High Priest’s breastplate.

Twelve months in the year.

For those who study these things, the number twelve in Scripture signifies “perfection” or “authority”.

It is also considered the number of completeness.

It was twelve days into April that Dominic completed his earthly sojourn and began his life in Heaven with Jesus.

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While from my perspective his life was cut short, from God’s it was finished.  The days ordained for my son before he was born had been completed.  The work He had prepared beforehand for him to do was through.

I don’t like it.  

But I receive it because it passed through the hands of my Father.

I can’t open my heart to love and close it to grief-so I’ll hold them both until I hold Dominic again.

Image result for all your days are ordained

 

 

 

The Cup of Sorrow

See, here’s the thing: to the outside world, my son’s death happened at a single point in time.

But to me, his death is a continuous event.

I must lift the cup of sorrow every day to parched lips.  I must choose to take it to the One Who can help me lift it.

Jesus knows this cup.

He knows my pain:  My Cup Overflows

 

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