Sun & Shade: Picking My Path

I walk the half-mile stretch down and back on my driveway at least four or five times a day.

In the winter I follow the sun.

In the summer I follow the shade.

The path I choose to take either adds to or subtracts from my ability to make the trek in relative comfort.

It would be foolish for me to not take advantage of available provisions.  It would be silly for me to shiver or sweat more just because I was too lazy to adjust my trajectory.

I can’t change the absolute temperature outside but I can influence how I experience it.

I’ve found that the same practical wisdom applies to my grief journey:  I can make things easier or harder on my heart by making even small changes in how I face a day or situation.

I can’t change the fact that my son is dead.  But I can influence how I experience it.

On days when I am struggling with sorrow, I seek out some “sunshine”-both actual sunshine by getting outdoors and figurative sunshine by feeding my soul with positive images, thoughts and the truth of Scripture.

sunrise brightest

I minimize my interaction with “negative Nellies” and sites or shows or books or places that send me further down the path of despair.

I share my struggle with safe people who will listen and not try to correct me or force me into pretending that sorrow is not what I feel.

I go to bed early, knowing that each sunrise brings new mercies from our Heavenly Father and that one bad day does not have to define a week.

steadfast-love-in-the-morning

On days when I’m overwhelmed with the “heat” of commitment or too many people or too much activity, I seek out some “shade”-I look for a spot in my schedule where I can rest a bit and catch my breath.

I reassess and find things I can give up.  I find other ways to meet obligations that give me more space and require less frantic scrambling.

I make myself sit down and slow down, even if it is for just fifteen minutes.

let-yourself-rest

I’m honest with my family and friends, because if I’m not I will end up being ugly and hurting someone’s feelings.

So, so many things about grief are outside my control.  I cannot anticipate every random trigger that might land me in a puddle of tears.

Life goes on and continues to demand my participation.

I want to be fully present for my loved ones.  I want to show up and make merry for all the special occasions.

So I try to use wisdom in how I approach each day, assessing my grief “temperature” so that I can do what’s necessary to ensure I’m emotionally healthy enough to do what I really want to do.

Shade in summer.

Sun in winter.

between stimulus and response

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

No, It’s Not Fair

I don’t know about you but I absolutely hated the word “fair” when I was raising four little humans.

What seemed like a good idea when training them to share toys was soon turned into a weapon whereby they would shout, “But Mama!  That’s not FAIR!!!”

Someone was going to get the last piece of cake or pizza or a tiny bit larger slice of pie.  Someone needed shoes this payday but not everyone needed shoes.  My daughter required certain items for her dance class, the boys didn’t need a thing.

To kids, “fair” meant even-exactly, precisely, even division of time, talent, money and attention.

Its-Not-Fair-608x419

But if I tried to turn the tables and suggest that it was one child’s turn to empty the bathroom garbage because another child did it last time, suddenly “fair” wasn’t such a great idea.

Because even young sinful hearts learn that making everything exactly even isn’t really what we want.

What we want is for the fates (and God! and Mama!) to favor US.

We want the bigger piece, we want to be excused from duty when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable.  We want, above all, not to suffer-even if the suffering is really not very painful.

calvin and hobbes bigger piece of the pie

As hard as it was to explain that life is. not. fair. to my young children, it has been harder still to explain it to my own heart in the wake of burying Dominic.

Seriously. 

What IS fair? 

Is it fair that my son shouldn’t die when the laws of physics kicked in as he left the road in a curve?

What about when those same laws mean another son lives?

Is it fair that my children were born in a land not decimated by war or famine-every one born by C-section in clean hospitals with adequate staffing and appropriate facilities?

No, life isn’t fair.

We live in a world marred by sin.  It’s a broken world where sometimes people make foolish choices, sinful choices or simply reckless choices.

It’s a world in which disease ravages bodies-young and old-and hearts stop.

I will mourn what I’ve lost.  I will weep for what I will never have. 

But I will not whine about things not being fair. 

I had nearly 24 years with Dominic.  Not as many as I expected nor as many as I wanted.  His life ended too soon from my perspective regardless of whatever Bible verse someone uses to explain it differently.

He was a gift.  And though he is now gone from my sight, I will see him again. 

Until then, I will work hard at being thankful and not resentful.  One attitude brings life and the other only death.

I’ve had enough death. 

I choose life. 

thankful for what is given rather than what is withheld

Today Matters More Than You Think

As far as I know there’s no national holiday, no major event, no red-letter notation under today’s date. 

But it matters.

It matters because life is made up more of ordinary days, ordinary moments and mundane choices than things that take weeks to plan.

I’ve had four years to consider what really matters when there’s no opportunity to make more memories.

be-thankful-for-today-change-in-one-moment

These are the things I find most precious… 

Laughter at the dinner table:  One more inside joke, one more funny story from the day, one more unexpected burp or missing your mouth with a fork or cup-happy noise filling the room and echoing off the walls.

Random acts of kindness in my own home:  I remember one day Dominic was working on his Trans Am under a shed in the yard.  A storm blew up and rain was slanting in on top of him and his parts.  Julian and I remembered an old tarp shed side lying around, ran and got it and had it up before Dominic was barely wet.  I pass that shed every day and think about how we all just jumped in and made things work.  Over and over and over.  A legacy of compassion and love that warms my heart.

Phone calls and texts and messages about absolutely nothing:  “Just checking in, Mom.”  “I finished that paper.”  “It’s supposed to rain today, need help out there?”  The stuff of daily life, the grace oil that greases the wheels of human interaction.  I can hear Dom’s deep voice booming in my head when I read them.

Goofy habits and pet peeves: Each one of my kids came down the steps in a distinctive fashion.  I didn’t have to look up to know who was joining me in the living room each morning.  Dominic was always marking rhythm by tapping his hand or snapping his fingers.  Julian lumbered down because morning is not his friend.  James Michael practically ran down (which actually resulted in a broken wrist once when he slipped!) and Fiona called out a cheery, “Morning, Mom!” when she neared the bottom.  If I listen hard in the dark hours of early morning, I can almost hear each one once again.

Few of these things are caught on film-they only exist in my mama’s heart because when I was living them, they hardly seemed worth the effort to record them.  

But these-THESE-are the “videos” I play as I drift off to sleep.

I’m thankful I wasn’t so absorbed in virtual reality that I missed storing them in my heart.

Everyday moments are the real keepers.  

Pay attention.

You might not get a second chance. 

wherever you are be all there

What is Forgiveness?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about forgiveness lately.  

What is it, exactly?

If I forgive then must I also forget?  If I forgive then must I also allow unfettered access into my life?  If I forgive then do I have to pretend the wounds inflicted by the offense don’t still hurt?

Here’s what I have so far: 

  • Forgiveness means letting go of the feelings surrounding the offense.  It means no longer expecting an apology, restitution, repentance, restoration.  It means trusting that whatever work needs to take place in the heart and life of the one who has injured me will have to be done in and through them by the power of God, not by me holding their feet to the fire.
  • Forgiveness means extricating my own heart from the bonds of expectation regarding the other person.  We start fresh.  Clean slate.  I lay down my hopes for how that person should/will/might treat me.  It’s a way of liberating myself regardless of whether they choose to remain in bondage to bad habits, a bad temper or unfruitful relationships.
  • Forgiveness means I have stopped looking to the other person for healing.  I must tend my own wounds, work my own field of feelings, deal with my own shortcomings, poor choices and habitual sins.  I can no longer use another person’s action or inaction as an excuse for my own delayed healing.
  • Forgiveness means that I can and should erect appropriate boundaries.  Every relationship is not a mission field.  I am not required to lay down my life to enable another person’s bad behavior.  If the person I forgive chooses not to change hurtful behavior, then I do not have to give them access to my heart and life.  I can be kind, receptive and compassionate but I do not have to hug them close just to make it easier for them to hurt me again.
  • Forgiveness means that I don’t use my injury at the hands of that person to malign his or her reputation.  If I have released that person from obligation to me through forgiveness, then I must choose to lay down the offense and not mention it to others.  (This, to me, is a good test of whether or not I’ve forgiven someone.)
  • Forgiveness is an act of my will regardless of the other person’s response to my choice.  Love, kindness and forgiveness are in essence the proffered hand.  If the person to whom it is extended slaps it away, then it’s on them.  I may be ready for a sea change, but the other person may still be resisting

forgiveness is not forgetting

Some people are easy to forgive!  

They recognize how their actions or words have wounded my heart and they ask for forgiveness. 

Others are much harder!

They either choose to ignore or are unable to see that they have hurt me.  

But I am called to forgive regardless because I have been forgiven.

forgiveness is difficult because it involves death and grief brene brown

 

 

Nagging Guilt in Child Loss

I should have known.  I should have been there.  I should have called, texted, spoken one more warning or given one more hug.

Should.  Should?  Should!

wistful woman looking out wet window

I have yet to speak to a bereaved parent who does not harbor guilt of some kind over the death of his or her child.

Not one.

Why didn’t I know?  What did I miss? Why didn’t I say “I love you” one more time?

Hindsight being 20/20 means that there are always threads a heart can pull to guide it back to some moment when it should have been obvious what was about to happen.

reaching hand in grief

We comb through days, months or years of evidence like a crime novel detective, determined to find the clue that unravels all the mystery surrounding our child’s death.

Guilt is a relentless hound nipping at tired heels.

I know there are circumstances where a parent may well be responsible in some measure for the death of his or her child.  If that’s you, then I hope you have a good counselor to help you work through all those feelings.  It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but it can be done.

But for many of us, the guilt is phantom pain. It has no basis in reality.  There was nothing we did or didn’t do that contributed to our child leaving this world.  Nothing we could have done to prevent it.  No way we could have known it was going to happen.

Running from guilt can keep a heart from doing the work grief requires.  It can build barriers between us and the people that can help us most.  It can lead our minds down a dark path into a bottomless pit.

Guilt is a thief and a liar.

Guilt will steal what I have left if I’m not very careful.

When my heart is overwhelmed by the “what ifs” and “shoulds” and “should-have-knowns”, I scream, “Shut Up!”.

I force my thoughts to turn instead to the things I know for sure:

  • Dominic was (is!) loved.
  • He was (still is!) a beautiful, thoughtful and capable soul.
  • His death was an accident and nothing I could have done would have prevented it.
  • He is safe, right now, in the arms of Jesus.
  • This separation is temporary.

I still have work to do and people to love and I can’t do either if I’m obsessed with the past.

It’s a costly act of will to stop the guilt soundtrack playing in my head.  

But it’s worth it. 

heart leaf torn

 

 

Choosing To Be Seen

It’s tempting to hide.

All I have to do is stay home or plaster on the “I’m fine” mask before I leave my driveway and venture out into the world.

Because, frankly, sometimes I just don’t want to explain why I’m crying again, struggling still, walking wounded and not “healed”.

But it’s not healthy.

I cannot selectively numb my emotions.  When I push down the painful, I slam the lid on all of it-joy and love included.

cannot selectively numb emotion brene brown

It takes courage to choose to be seen.

It’s hard to choose to walk honestly and openly in the world.

It’s risky to offer my authentic self up to an often inattentive, insensitive and critical audience.  
vulnerability brene brown

But if I am to be truly known then I must choose to let others see my struggle and allow them to witness my failures and heartache.  

courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen brene brown

Truth is, when I hide I forfeit real connection. 

There’s no authentic relationship without vulnerability.  

connection brene brown

I want deep and authentic bonds with family and friends.  

I don’t want to hide.  

I want to be seen.