A Little Getaway Is Good For A Heart

My birthday is in a couple of weeks and my daughter has arranged for us to have a little getaway together this week.

She had no way to know when she made the reservations four months ago how badly we both would need it.

But God knew.

Nothing takes Him by surprise even when it blindsides me.

I often have to remind my heart of that truth.

Especially when blow after blow lands hard and knocks me off my feet. Especially when I feel that I might be crushed under the load. Especially when my mind is so full of fear and anxiety there’s no room for much else.

I’m thankful for a daughter who thinks ahead and a God who knows.

Some quiet time is precisely what our hearts are longing for this November. We will sleep and talk and walk and wander. We won’t have to answer to a clock or a phone.

It will be glorious.

Holidays are Coming, Ready or Not!

We’ve reached the peak of Hallowthankmas in the stores.

I‘ve never liked smashing one holiday on top of another which seems, in my mind, to rob each of their respective unique characteristics.

I’m also particularly frustrated that Halloween-a “holiday” mocking death and focused on fear (for many)-occupies way more space in mass retailers’ aisles than Thanksgiving.

But I can no more hold back the onslaught of merchandising than I can the days marching resolutely toward end of year holidays even if I choose not to join the commercial bandwagon.

So here we are.

There are forty-eight days until Thanksgiving and seventy-five days until Christmas.

Only a short time left to figure out how to honor the missing and love the living through some of the most difficult days of the year for bereaved hearts.

I’ve written many posts about what helps, what hurts, how and when to have hard conversations with extended family members about making space for brokenness at the table and in our celebrations.

I’ll be reposting those over the next couple of weeks since I firmly believe it takes forethought and planning if we want Thanksgiving and Christmas to look more like a Hallmark movie and less like a disaster film.

In the meantime I want to share some questions that are helping me sift through my own expectations, hopes and preferences for what our holidays might look like this year:

  • What is TRULY important to you, your family and/or close friends with whom you celebrate?
  • Do you love to make an elaborate meal, bake tons of cookies, pull out all the old family recipes that call for less-than-healthy ingredients? Is decorating your thing? Does it just not feel like Christmas if you miss driving around looking at lights?
  • Are you fresh on this journey and need a way to skip traditions all together? Maybe you want to spend the holidays away from home or at home with a single candle lit in honor of your child.
  • Do you have to consider younger children (either surviving siblings or grandchildren) that might pressure you to keep things “normal” for their sake?
  • Have you asked your surviving children what’s important to THEM? Don’t assume their silence equals assent.

The first year after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, lots of things had changed in addition to his absence. One son got married and moved out of state, my mother’s health was in decline, my husband was working out of town and my house felt so, so empty.

We chose to put up a very small tree with limited ornaments consisting of family photos and hearts. We gave gifts but asked that others not give us any. We joined extended family for a meal but not for opening presents.

That’s what was right for US for that year.

Each year since has been slightly different.

I have to ask those questions of myself and of my family over and over, recalibrate, shift our focus or change our choices depending on how life has reshaped our circumstances in the past twelve months.

If this is the first holiday season since your child left you might want to ignore it altogether. That’s OK. But at the least you may have to tell friends and family that’s your plan.

So grab some paper and find a quiet spot to think.

Then write without editing your thoughts, feelings or ideas.

Save the page so you can reflect on it and make the decisions right for YOUR family THIS year.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting ideas from other bereaved parents that might help you navigate this particularly challenging part of the journey.

It may seem impossible.

But you’ve faced the impossible before.

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Sibling Grief Reactions By Age Group

Grieving parents often face the additional challenge of trying to help their surviving children process the death of a sibling.

While there are many factors that influence how a particular child understands and works through his or her grief, age at time of bereavement plays a significant role.

Children’s grief can look very different than that of the adults around them. And that grief may resurface later on as the child grows and matures, even long after the death of a loved one.

I came across this helpful article that lists common bereavement reactions by age group and have reprinted it in its entirety. It was originally published at KidsHealth New Zealand. http://www.kidshealth.org.nz

Key Points to Remember About Bereavement Reactions:

  • how any child or young person grieves when someone they love has died will depend on many things
  • babies, children and teenagers tend to grieve in bursts, and at other times will look for reassurance and comfort in their normal routines and activities
  • bereaved children and teenagers will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support – it is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the death

How any child or young person grieves when someone they love has died will depend on many things, such as their:

  • age
  • gender
  • their developmental stage
  • personality
  • ways they usually react to stress and emotion
  • relationship with the person who has died
  • earlier experiences of loss or death
  • family circumstances
  • how others around them are grieving
  • amount of support around them

Babies, children and teenagers may often seem unconcerned, playing or doing their usual activities, so adults can assume they are not properly aware of the death, or affected by it. They are, but in their own ways. Babies, children and teenagers tend to grieve in bursts, and at other times will look for reassurance and comfort in their normal routines and activities.

Bereaved children and teenagers will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support. It is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the death. This can happen as they move through different life milestones, and develop as individuals.

Babies and Toddlers:

At this young age babies and toddlers don’t have an understanding of death nor the language to say how they are feeling. However, they can definitely experience feelings of loss and separation and are likely to pick up on the anxiety or distress of close adults or others around them.

Common reactions can include:

  • looking for the person who has died
  • being irritable
  • crying more
  • wanting to be held more; being clingy
  • being less active – quiet, less responsive
  • possible weight loss
  • being jumpy, anxious
  • being fretful, distressed

How to help them:

  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • hold and cuddle them more
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • provide comfort items, such as a cuddly toy, special blanket etc

Preschoolers

At this age children find it hard to understand that death is permanent. They are also at a stage of magical thinking, for example, thinking someone will come alive again or thinking somehow they made someone die. They understand separation though, and feel insecure and frightened when the familiar things around them change. This age group needs a lot of reassurance that they will be safe and looked after.

Common reactions can include:

  • looking for the person who has died
  • dreams, or sensing the presence of the person who has died
  • fearfulness, anxiety
  • clinginess
  • being fretful, distressed
  • being irritable; having more tantrums
  • withdrawing, being quiet, showing a lack of response
  • changes in eating
  • difficulty in sleeping
  • toileting problems, bed wetting, soiling
  • regressing in progress; for example, returning to crawling, wanting a bottle

How to help them:

  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • tell them you know they are sad – start to teach and use words that describe feelings
  • tell them they are safe, and who is looking after them
  • keep separated from them as little as possible
  • comfort them with hugs, cuddles, holding their hand, and by encouraging them
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • explain death as part of life, so they come to understand it bit by bit. Using some examples in nature may be helpful, such as watching plants grow, bloom and die or seasons change
  • provide comfort items, such as a cuddly toy, special blanket etc
  • encourage play – children can often use play to help them process what’s happened; for example, sand play, puppets, dolls, writing, drawing, painting and various physical activities

Primary School Children

Primary school children are still learning to understand death and can have some confused thoughts about it. They may think death is temporary, or that the person who has died may still feel things, such as coldness, hunger or loneliness etc. They may ask where the person is now, and have blunt questions to ask about what happened to them and to their body. Explaining death to them is very important.

Common reactions can include:

  • looking for the person who has died
  • having dreams about, or sensing the presence of, the person who has died
  • blaming themselves for the death
  • being easily distracted, forgetful
  • being anxious; having increased fears, such as of the dark, of others’ safety
  • clinginess – wanting to be near you or others more
  • withdrawing, being quiet, showing a lack of response
  • being fretful, distressed, not wanting to go to school
  • feeling embarrassment; feeling different from others; may conceal their loss
  • physical complaints, such as tummy aches, headaches, aching
  • being irritable, having more tantrums, being defiant, or developing antisocial or aggressive behaviour
  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • toileting problems, bed wetting, soiling

How to help them:

  • frequently reassure them they are safe, and who is looking after them
  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • tell them you know they are sad – start to use words that describe feelings
  • keep separated from them as little as possible
  • allow questions and provide honest answers
  • comfort them with hugs, cuddles, holding their hand, and by encouraging them
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • explain death as part of life, so they come to understand it bit by bit. Using some examples in nature may be helpful, such as watching plants grow, bloom and die or seasons change
  • let them help in planning the funeral or something to remember the loss
  • provide comfort items, such as a cuddly toy, special blanket etc
  • encourage play – children often can use play to help them process what’s happened; for example, sand play, puppets, dolls, writing, drawing, painting and various physical activities

Older Children (10-12 years)

Common reactions include:

All of the above relate to this age group, but it’s important to be aware that by this age children know death is final. They are also more aware of how adults and others around them are reacting to death. This group may also:

  • be especially anxious about the safety of family and friends, and themselves
  • try very hard to please adults and not worry them, and so not let themselves grieve
  • feel stronger emotional reactions, such as anger, guilt, sense of rejection
  • want to take on more adult responsibilities, trying very hard to please
  • feel embarrassment; feel different from peers; may conceal their loss
  • become more focused on what’s happened and ask questions, think about it a lot, have dreams about it, and perhaps want to talk about it often to others

How to help them:

They need all of the help in the previous section plus:

  • time to talk with you and other trusted adults, when they need to
  • regular reassurance – spoken, and with encouraging physical touch (such as hugs, pat on the back etc).
  • honesty about events, and feelings
  • to know you understand their grief
  • regular encouragement
  • avoid expectations of adult behaviour – allow them to be the age and stage they are

Teenagers

By adolescence, death is accepted as part of life, but it may not have affected a teenager personally yet. Their reactions may fluctuate between earlier age group reactions and reactions that are more adult.

Teenagers will often want to be more with friends than family as they seek support. They may find the intensity of emotion overwhelming or scary and not be able to find the words or ways to talk about them with others. They may want to feel they’re coping, and be seen to be, but inside be hurting a great deal, or be putting their emotions on a shelf for a later time.

Death can so shake teens that some react with risk taking behaviour – to escape the feelings and reality and as a source of comfort; for example, drinking, drugs, more sexual contact or reckless driving.

Common reactions can include:

  • being easily distracted, forgetful
  • having difficulty concentrating at school
  • being unsettled in class, a change in class performance, not wanting to go to school
  • being overwhelmed by intense reactions, such as anger, guilt, fear
  • having difficulty expressing intensity of emotions, or conflict of emotions
  • blaming themselves for the death
  • anxiety – increased fears about others’ safety, and their own
  • having questions or concerns about death, dying, mortality
  • dreams about, or sensing the presence of, the person who has died
  • wanting to be near family or friends more
  • withdrawing to be alone
  • physical complaints, such as tummy aches, headaches, aching
  • being irritable, defiant, more antisocial or displaying aggressive behaviour
  • risk-taking behaviour to escape, to comfort, or to prove they’re alive and strong; for example, drinking, drugs, more sexual contact or reckless driving
  • changes in eating, sleeping habits
  • bedwetting
  • jokes or humour, masking feelings
  • saying, or acting like, they don’t care
  • wanting to take on more adult responsibilities, trying very hard to please
  • strained relationships with others – fear or awkwardness about being close to others
  • feeling embarrassment; feeling different from peers; may conceal their loss
  • a sense of loneliness – isolation
  • a change in self-image, lower self-esteem
  • possibly suicidal thoughts
  • possibly moving from sadness into depression

How to help them:

  • be honest and let them know what’s happening
  • be willing to listen, and available to talk about whatever they need to talk about
  • acknowledge the emotions they may be feeling—fear, sadness, anger
  • it can be helpful for parents, or other adults, to share their own feelings regarding the loss
  • frequently reassure them they are safe, who is caring for them, and which adults they can trust to ask for further support
  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • talk to them about grief – what it is, that it’s normal, that everyone is different
  • avoid expectations of adult behaviour – allow them to be the age and stage they are, encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings – give them ideas of things they could try, such as doing physical activities, writing, singing, listening to music, talking with friends, reading etc
  • allow questions and provide honest answers
  • comfort them with hugs, cuddles, holding their hand, and by encouraging them
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • talk about death together; answer any questions they may have
  • let them help in planning the funeral or something to remember the loss

Bereaved children and teenagers will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support. It is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the death. This can happen as they move through different life milestones, and develop as individuals.

If you are concerned about any extreme reactions, or if you think the young person may have become depressed, contact your doctor or other trained adviser, such as a counsellor, senior staff member from their school, social worker, community or youth worker or a local family support agency.

Originally published on: http://www.kidshealth.org.nz

Full of Joy and Safe in His Father’s Arms

I’ve mothered things all my life.  

Kittens, puppies, hamsters, other people.  

And then I had my very own children. 

What a privilege to pour my life into them!  What joy to see them grow and mature and become people I not only loved but admired and respected!

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

I learned so very much while raising my children.  The Lord used them to shape and mold my heart to be more like His.  They were instruments of grace and discipline.  Over and over and over I had to lay down my preferences and priorities to make way for theirs.

Now I have a grandson. 

ryker hands up and paci (2)

Another generation to snuggle and teach, comfort and care for.  

I’m already learning even more in this season.  

This little guy’s early and rocky start in life reignited passion for prayer in mine.  Watching him grow and thrive sparks hope and joy like I haven’t felt in the years since Dominic left us for Heaven.

His smile lights up my heart and the room.

Just the other day his daddy shared this picture with me:  

ryker smiling big in daddys arms

James Michael was being silly with him, oohing and aahing and making him giggle.

As I stared at the photo I realized this child was experiencing such joy, such complete contentment, fulfillment and utter sense of safety it was uncontainable.

So it spread all over his face.  

Then I had an epiphany-that’s exactly what Dominic feels right now. 

This very minute the child I am missing is missing nothing.  Precisely when I am wondering if God cares, if He hears, if He’s even near, Dominic is filled to overflowing with undeniable and uncontainable joy because what I hope for he SEES. 

And one day that will be me. 

All the heartache of this life will fade away to a tiny, tiny dot in the distance.  What has been stolen will be restored.  What has been bartered away will be redeemed.  Wounds will be fully healed and my heart will be whole.  

I’ll be full of joy and safe in my Father’s arms.  ❤

no eye has seen no ear has heard

 

 

 

Thirty-Five Years and Counting

Some people say they’d love to know what life has around the corner.

Not me.

At least not much past tomorrow morning.

If my husband and I had known thirty-five years ago what our lives would be like along the way, we may very well have turned tail and run in the other direction!

hector and me 29 anniversary

There have been many, many good things in those years.

We have four beautiful children whom we love so much.  Two are married and their spouses are a blessing to our family.

And this year our first grandchild made his dramatic appearance at only twenty-eight weeks!  We are oh, so thankful he’s doing well.

It’s a brand new feeling to watch your son with his.

ryker and jm june 19

There have been a fair number of not-so-good things too. 

Job layoffs, illness, the death of Hector’s parents one right after the other and the stress and strain of life’s details when it seemed we couldn’t get a break.

But nothing compares to burying Dominic.  

How does a heart learn to live with a giant piece missing?

IMG_1813 (1)

We have, though. 

We’ve muddled through.

The commitment we made all those years ago has stood firm.

It’s battered, crumpled, muddied and torn, but it remains the guiding promise of our lives together.

traditional wedding vows

“Death Ends a Life, Not a Relationship”

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” ~ Tuesdays with Morrie

A parent’s love doesn’t end simply because a child leaves this earth.  

The relationship is not over as long as a  bereaved parent’s heart beats. 

i carry your heart ee cummingsSo we face a challenge:  How do we express love to and honor relationship with a child out of sight and out of reach. 

We tell our stories and theirs.  We start foundations or fund scholarships or do Random Acts of Kindness in honor of our son or daughter.  We lobby legislators and city councils.  We fight for changes in medical protocol. We post pictures on social media to keep their lights bright in friends’ and family’s memories. 

And we say their names.

Because death can take a body, but it can’t steal a relationship.  

 

death-ends-a-life-not-a-relationship-gentle green

Child Loss: Missing The Family I Thought I’d Have

I miss a lot of things since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

I miss HIM-his deep voice, his perspective and his thump-thump-thumping down the stairs and the rhythm of who he is.

And I miss how his absence has reshaped the family I thought I’d have.  

Raising four children, investing my time, heart and energy into who they were turning out to be, I naturally projected into the years ahead.  All that love poured into them would create a legacy we’d all enjoy.  Marriages, careers, grandchildren and experience would blend together into a (if not perfectly harmonious) at least a shared future.

desimones uab family

I never imagined turning a calendar page without one of my children to turn it with me.  

Dominic’s death has touched each one of us.  His missing is as powerful a force as his presence.  We are absolutely NOT THE SAME as we would have been if he were still here nor as we were when he was still here.

When Dom first left us, I was primarily mourning him.  I still miss him like crazy.  

But a lot of my mourning during the past twelve months has been for the family I thought I would have.  I see each of my surviving children are processing Dominic’s absence in ways that influence their decisions.

In some ways it’s beautiful-I see twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings making choices with wisdom way beyond their years.  In some ways it’s brutal-they set up safeguards because they know by experience that leaving the house doesn’t always mean you return.  They have back up plans for everything.

Which wasn’t something I even thought about when I was their age.  

My husband and I expected to drift into retirement years full of energy and vigor.  Much of that has been stolen from us by child loss too.  Oh, how we long to be the fun grandparents, the traveling duo, the footloose crazy pair but it’s much more effort than we anticipated.

Sometimes we can’t muster that energy at all.  

I know some changes were inevitable.  Dominic’s death coincided with a natural progression toward an empty nest.  I’m not a helicopter mama and I’ve always said my goal was to raise children who could function well without me so I think that as much as possible, I prepared my heart for them to grow up and grow apart.

But in addition to normal changes, there’s an utterly unnatural and unwelcome transformation from nuclear family to brokenhearted family.

I am so, so thankful that we have chosen the hard path of running toward one another instead of running away.  

I’m grateful that we have grown from five left behind to a table for eight-two new spouses and a precious grandchild. 

I do not take a single second for granted because I know that seconds are not guaranteed.  

But I sure wish Dominic were here to share it with us.  

dominic at olive garden