Children’s Grief Awareness Day

Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day.

I’m thankful a day is set aside to focus on children’s grief because it’s so easy for their grief to be overlooked, underrated and even dismissed.

Grown ups often tout the line, “Kids are resilient. They will adapt.”

And while it’s true that from the OUTSIDE it might look like a child is OK or even thriving, on the INSIDE she may be curled up into a ball or he may be angry and resentful.

Sometimes these feelings find unhealthy expression through addiction or risky behavior. Sometimes they simply grow into a giant overwhelming shadow that darkens the child’s whole world.

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My own mother’s mama died suddenly from a stroke when she was only ten years old. Within days, Mama was whisked away from everyone and everything she knew to live with her oldest married sister.

No one understood then that children needed to grieve so Mama never really did.

At least not out loud where anyone could hear.

But that grief informed her entire life-it made her kinder to many people and made it harder for her to develop deep attachments to others. She was only able to talk about it in the last couple of years of her life when failing health, my own loss and many hours spent in hospital rooms together created safe spaces for her to share.

Children grieve whether we observe it or not.

Children need safe spaces to express that grief even when it hurts our hearts to hear the words or see the tears.

No child should have to wait until they are grown to acknowledge his pain or her brokenness.

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Just like we parents, surviving siblings grieve what they’ve lost AND what will never be. Graduations, weddings, new babies, holidays, birthdays and other occasions mark their hearts too.

Children bear other burdens as well.

They are often targeted by those outside the grief circle for updates on the family while their own grief goes unnoticed. After five years, my kids have developed a standard answer to the question, “How’s your mom doing?”

“About as well as you’d expect.”

Next.

Sometimes children feel they must be extra good and extra quiet in an effort to make up for the sadness in a home after the death of a child. Sometimes they take on adult roles, shouldering responsibilities a depressed or grieving parent can’t manage right now. Sometimes they struggle with misplaced guilt when their hearts are jealous of all the attention focused on the missing child.

Often they just wish things were back to how they were before tragedy struck.

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Your children may never tell you these things unless you ask.

And they may not confirm them even if you do.

But rest assured, they are grieving too.

Give them permission to do it out loud.

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Emotional Overload and T.M.I.

There are so many ways child loss impacts relationships!

Some of the people you think will stand beside you for the long haul either never show up or disappear right after the funeral.

Some people you never expected to hang around not only come running but choose to stay.

And every. single. relationship. gets more complicated.  

When your heart is shattered, there are lots of sharp edges that end up cutting you and everyone around you.  It’s pretty much inevitable that one or more relationships will need mending at some point.

I know I said (still say!) things that wound others.  Most of the time it’s because I’m distracted or hurting myself and my mouth begins speaking before my brain is fully engaged.  Sometimes, though, it’s because I’m in pain and (frankly!) I want to transfer some of that pain to someone else.

Misery DOES love company!

Often other people in my life will say or do things that wound me.  Some of the folks are part of my inner grief circle and I know that it’s unintentional or they are having a pain-filled day like I am.

A few are extended family members who are either blissfully unaware of the ongoing pain and drama of child loss or are too caught up in their own lives to give it a thought.

Some of them are friends who think by now I should have toughened up and are no longer willing to extend extra grace and try harder to be tender.

Sometimes it’s acquaintances or strangers who don’t have a clue.

Whenever someone pierces my armor and inflicts pain, I have a choice:  Do I suck it up and take it or do I say something and try to reconcile?

There are days when I feel strong enough to just overlook it.  But I know if it represents a pattern, sooner or later the pressure will build and I’m going to blow.  And that’s not good for either one of us.

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There are days when I absolutely, positively have to address it.  That’s when I need to be careful of overloading another heart with too much information (TMI).  See, it’s easy to make one person the target for all my strong feelings.  It’s easy to do an emotional and informational “dump” on whoever happens to be handy or whoever is the least intimidating.

That’s unfair and unhelpful-for them and for me.  

So when I decide to open my mouth and address a specific situation with a specific person, I need to keep my margins clean and only say the things that pertain to THAT instance.  I can’t bring up every single thing the person has done in the past or things that they haven’t said or done but which have made me more sensitive to certain words or actions.  I don’t need to burden them with all the details of MY bad day or week or month.

Instead I should talk about my own feelings in relationship to them and their actions or words. 

“I feel like _________when you say________” gives vent to my emotion without accusing another heart.  I need to leave room for them to share what they were/are thinking and feeling too.  It can’t be one-way conversation if I hope to have a two-way relationship.  

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Any stressful life circumstance makes us all more vulnerable to offense.  And child loss is certainly stressful.  It’s stressful in ways others can’t see or comprehend.  It alters the way a parent sees and experiences the world.

It makes everything harder.  

Relationships included.  

I want to be full of love, grace and mercy, not overrun with bitterness, anger and offense. 

So I have to be mindful of what I say, how much I say and when I choose to say it.

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Ask Me, Please.

I have been guilty of this more times than I ‘d like to admit. 

I assume someone else’s feelings mirror my own and act on that assumption by withdrawing or not showing up or “giving them space”.

But the problem is, most times, on reflection, I realize my action (or inaction) was really all about sparing my own feelings  or staying within my own comfort zone.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

~Jeremiah 17:9 NIV

So I’m learning to ask hard questions.

And I wish others would do the same.

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Before I assume someone doesn’t want companionship, or a phone call or another text or message, I’m trying to give them the opportunity to say no.  

I’ve been surprised more than once when I wanted to keep my distance in the name of “giving someone space” or “not bothering someone” that if I DID reach out, she responded by saying it was just what she needed.

I admit that asking risks rejection or worse-I might end up bearing the brunt of someone’s very bad day (or week!).  But not asking means I may not be doing precisely the thing God wants me to do.  I may be choosing the easy way out and rationalizing it so I feel better but the poor heart that needs my companionship or encouragement is left without the very help I was meant to provide.

I think Dominic’s death has made me brave in this one tiny place:  I say things I might not have said before.  I risk pain in relationships where I might not have been willing to risk before.  I assume that if I don’t speak important truths RIGHT NOW I might not get another chance.

I long to be a burden bearer for my friends and family because I know what it is to bear a burden.

So I ask and don’t assume.  

If someone wants to be left alone, then they are free to tell me.

But I will not stay silent or keep away simply for my own comfort.  

Who knows?  Maybe this is exactly the good work God has prepared in advance for me to do.

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Why I Have To Talk It Out

I admit I’m full of words.  When my mama came to pick me up when her best friend was babysitting for awhile, she said, “You can’t have her yet, she’s telling me all kinds of things!”

More than once my mouth got me in trouble.

It’s still the source of most of my problems.

But for a time after Dominic left I found that the only words I could muster beyond what was absolutely necessary were written in my journal.  Because the words I wanted to say were bitter and harsh and tasted bad as they came up my throat and threatened to roll off my tongue.

I didn’t want to tell the story of that early morning knock.  I didn’t want to speak aloud the terror that gripped my soul, the literal shattering of my heart, the unholy darkness that enveloped me.

I HAD to make phone calls.  I was forced to say, “Dominic is dead” over and over and over.  Then I wanted to hide in silence and stay on the fringe of conversations that filled our home and the church before we buried him.

It seemed easier to swallow the words than taste them.

But I couldn’t do that forever.

Eventually the words began to rot inside me and make the pain even worse.  I had to let them out.  I had to talk about it.  All of it.

The actual events.

The feelings associated with the accident.

The pain of choosing a cemetery plot, a casket, an order of service, of writing an obituary, of burying my son.

The awful emptiness that one life missing makes in a family of six.

The fact that at some point I woke from the stupor enough to wonder how the God I had worshiped for all these years let this happen.

And I needed someone to listen.  I needed someone to be a witness to my words.  It was no longer enough to write them down, wrap them up and hide them away.

They had to be spoken so that the power they had over my soul could be broken.

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Thank God for people who are willing to listen!  

I have friends and family who let me recite the same thing over and over and over so that each telling helps my heart toward healing.

I have several online and in-person communities of bereaved parents who do the same (and more!) because they understand precisely how I feel and can offer hope from their own stories of healing. *

Listening is love in action.

If you know someone whose heart carries great grief-and child loss is not the only hard journey hearts are makingoffer to listen. 

Give up a few minutes to hear how they are really doing, what is really hard, what they really need to say but may be afraid to speak aloud.  Leave spaces in conversation so a heart can work up the courage to share.  Don’t be quick to offer platitudes that shut down deep discussion.  

It often takes many, many repetitions of traumatic events for a heart to begin to heal. 

And each time you grant someone permission to share and listen to his or her story, you are applying balm to a weary soul.  ❤

listening is a postive act

 

*Here are two online closed communities for bereaved parents:   While We’re Waiting Support for Bereaved Parents  Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child

The Compassionate Friends offers in-person support groups around the country.

GriefShare also holds classes and offers in-person support.  Check online for availability in your area.

 

 

 

Repost: Subtitles

My husband is the child of immigrants.  And even thirty years after coming to America, my in-laws preferred their native Italian to English.

So when we would be in a crowded room, comments flying, I struggled to keep up with what was being said because I didn’t speak the same language.

Sometimes feelings got hurt because what one of us thought we were saying was not what the other person heard.

Read the rest here:  Subtitles

Stronger Together

Remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz? She found herself on an unexpected journey with no one except her dog. Then she made a few new friends who were all looking for solutions to their needs. What did they do? They locked arms as they traveled the yellow brick road and encountered its hazards together. As a group, they pressed on toward the Emerald City.

Alone, they were overwhelmed; they succumbed to their fears and obstacles. But when they came together, they found the courage and strength they needed to keep going. They became a healing community sharing common pain and goals.

~Dena Yohe, You Are Not Alone

I’m not making a political statement.

Instead, it’s a very personal truth that I repeat often to myself: We are Stronger Together.

Because left alone in my grief, my sorrow and this dark valley I will give up and give in.  By myself, I will convince my heart that there is no hope. Isolated, I will lose sight of the tiny glimmer of light in the distance that can guide me home.

There are many brave women who have come alongside and joined me in this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Some I know only from exchanged messages or posts on bereaved parents’ boards.  Some I have had the blessed opportunity to meet in person-share a meal or a coffee-and see the beautiful face that encourages me when I think I can’t go on.

Others are authors whose words breathe hope into my exhausted soul.

These linked arms make an unbreakable chain of love, support and affirmation that gives me courage to carry on.

And I am thankful for each and every one.

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It Matters to That One

Talk is cheap.  

So many folks think posting a meme or retweeting a catchy phrase is the same as acting on what they believe

It’s not.

If the only action you take to advance the values you claim to hold dear is a few keystrokes behind the safety of a screen I question your commitment.

Don’t tell me you love your neighbor when you don’t know his name.

Get up off the couch and make a difference.

Can I change the world?  Probably not.

But I can change my corner of it.

Can I help everyone?  No.

But I can help someone.

This is an old story, but it’s true:

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