Instead Of Fixing, Offer Space To Share

I didn’t realize until I was the person who needed comforting how unhelpful and sometimes painful my own past comments were to my suffering friends and family.

There are many important and necessary conversations going on right now about how we talk to and talk about our fellow humans.  I’m thankful folks are learning that words are rarely (ever?) neutral.

They build up or tear down. 

And we are responsible for them.

I wish that along with other areas, we would consider how we discuss and address those who experience painful life circumstances.  But we rarely do.

This is one place where the right words can make such a difference.

Instead of shutting down the broken heart or lamenting soul, we can choose to invite them to share and then stick around to listen.

We can create safe spaces instead of closing the door to further conversation.

We can participate in healing instead of perpetuating the pain.

 

instead offering compassion.png

Fix It Or Forget It: Why Unfinished Stories Make Others Uncomfortable

Attention spans are shorter than ever.

It’s easy to understand why.  We live in a world full of sound bytes, memes, tweets and T-shirt slogans.

But life can’t be reduced to such little snippets, even if we wish it could.

Not every biography has the perfect “beginning, middle, end” arch that makes for a good and satisfying story.

Some of us can’t tie up our experiences in tidy boxes, with colorful bows and a lovely tag line that inspires thousands.

gift box with bow

We are living unfinished, messy, hard stories that keep shifting, changing and require us to face mountain after mountain and valley after valley.

And we stumble. 

A lot.

I suppose it’s tiresome for our friends to have to slow down, turn around, bend down and help us get back up over and over and over.

Many of our compassionate companions turn into personal trainers at some point:  “You can do it!  Try harder! Push farther!  You’ve got to work at it!  Don’t give up!  Come on, don’t you want to get stronger, fitter, better????”

personal trainer

The hidden message?  If I wanted to badly enough, would try hard enough, work long enough or get the right help, I could “fix” this.  I could emerge from child loss whole, healed and healthy.

And when I don’t, they get frustrated, disgusted or just plain bored and leave me lonely on the trail.  They walk away and forget-because they CAN forget.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  If you think it’s hard to watch your friend struggle with a broken heart, a shattered life, doubts and regrets, it’s harder to live it.

 

You can walk away.  I can’t.  You can go home, close the door and think of something else.  I go home, close the door and am flooded with thoughts, emotions and overwhelming grief.

mixed stages of grief

 

If I could “fix it” don’t you think I would?

But I can’t.

I will continue to have a messy, untidy, unfinished life this side of Heaven.

And I will keep climbing, struggling and stumbling.

Will you stick around and walk with me?

Or will you walk away?

walking-up-a-hill

 

 

Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families

I firmly believe that our friends and extended family want to reach out, want to help, want to walk alongside as we grieve the death of our child

 I am also convinced that many of them don’t because they don’t know how.  

It may seem unfair that in addition to experiencing our loss, we also have to educate others on how to help us as we experience it, but that’s just how it is.

The alternative is to feel frustrated and abandoned or worse.  

So here’s a list of helpful tips (and a great infographic!) for interacting with bereaved families:  

Express condolences and show you care. Don’t avoid me, please!  You cannot make me any sadder.  I need to hear from you.

friends hugging

Refer to my child by name.  Dominic is STILL my son.  He is still part of my story.  But because he’s no longer visible, his name often goes unspoken.  Please talk to me about him, use his name, tell me a story of how he impacted your life or a memory that makes you smile.  It makes me smile too.

Actively listen and be supportive.  It’s hard to listen to someone tell you how much they are hurting and not offer advice or think of ways to “fix” them.  I can tell you from experience that what I need most on my darkest days is for someone to say, “It IS dark.  I’m so sorry.”  Silence is OK too.  Not every quiet moment needs to be filled with chatter.

listening is a postive act

Understand that each family and family member will grieve in different ways.  You may have observed child loss before but what you saw in one family may not translate to the next.  There are no hard and fast rules for this awful journey.  The age of the child, family background and structure, manner of death-all these impact grief.  In addition, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers all bring their personalities, stage of life, beliefs and experiences to the journey.  There were five of us left behind when Dominic ran ahead.  We were each devastated but expressed it in very different ways.  Nearly five years later, those gaps have widened, not narrowed.

Fathers grieve too.  Sometimes support focuses almost exclusively on the mother.  In part because of a common notion that mothers are somehow emotionally closer to their children than dads.  In part because many men are less demonstrative and may do a good job hiding grief.  Whatever the reason, don’t assume one parent is dealing “better” with the loss than another (mother or father) just because he (or she) is not crying openly.  No one escapes this awful blow unscathed.

bereaved fathers

Don’t overlook siblings.  Surviving siblings are sometimes referred to as “forgotten grievers”.  If they are very young, people may think they are relatively unaffected by the death of a brother or sister. If they are grown and out of the home, people may figure that the siblings’ own, very full and very busy, lives keep them preoccupied.  While some of that may be true-to an extent-most surviving siblings are deeply impacted by the death of a brother or sister, regardless of age.  Not only have they lost a member of the family and changed birth order, they have also lost the family they knew, the parents they knew and a co-keeper of memories and secrets.  Bereaved parents are often overwhelmed with grief for their living children as well as the child that is missing. One of the best gifts anyone gave me was reaching out to my surviving children.  It helped my heart to know that they had friends who were supporting and loving them well.

kids cartoon

Be yourself.  People often feel awkward and stiff when approaching a bereaved parent or family member.  That’s perfectly understandable.  The bereaved seem so fragile (are so fragile!) that folks are afraid the wrong word or touch might shatter them into a thousand pieces.  But what your friend or family needs right now is the you they’ve always known and loved.  If you are a hugger, hug!  If you are a storyteller, tell stories (appropriate ones, ones of the missing child).  If you are a cook and cleaner, then cook and clean.  Our family was blessed by our friends doing exactly what they had always done-come alongside in their own special way.  So much had changed in our world that familiar touchstones, familiar routines and familiar faces were a real comfort.

Keep in mind words matter.  Now is not the time to try to satisfy your curiosity about exactly “what happened”.  Loud joking is rarely welcome.  Many bereaved families find it hard to laugh in the first days, weeks, months because it feels like betrayal.  Don’t offer platitudes intended to help them “look on the bright side” or consider that “it could be worse”.  There is nothing worse than burying your child.  Nothing.  Listen and take direction from the person you are comforting.  Follow his or her lead.  And if something less than helpful slips out, own it and apologize.

pencil-drawing-bereaved-mother

It’s never too late to reach out.  NEVER.  Sometimes people stay away at first for lots of reasons.  Or they show up for the memorial service and then fade into the background.  After a bit, even if they want to reach out, they may feel embarrassed by the long absence.  Don’t be.  So many people stop calling, visiting and texting within the first weeks that your outstretched hand of friendship will be a welcome beacon of hope.  If you need to, apologize for your absence.  Be honest.  Admit you were scared or whatever.

Then show up. 

Stick around.

You don’t have to be perfect.  

Just be present.  

bereaved families infographic

Sometimes I Just Want To Be Me!

Even in the very first hours after the news, my brain began instructing my heart, “Now, try to be brave.  Try not to disappoint people.  Try to say the right thing, do the right thing and be the example you should be.”

Whatever that meant.

As I made phone calls and received concerned friends and family members I was so aware that they would take a cue from me-how much can I say, how hard can I cry, should I hug or stand back, should I talk about him or be silent lest it make the tears fall harder?

And here-almost five years later-I still feel like I need to lead the way in conversations and social encounters.

Read the rest here:  Can I Just Be Me?

The Importance of Silence: Holding Space so Hearts Can Speak

We do it all the time in the physical world-leave the shopping cart in line with the admonition to the person behind us to “hold our place” while we run to get that forgotten item.

We leave a gap for that minivan to pull in just where the construction cones narrow a highway from two lanes to one.

We open a door and step aside so the elderly lady with her hands full can manage to get through without dropping the load.

But most of us are not as good at it in relationships.

Read the rest here:  Holding Space

Repost: Of Flying Geese and Calling Courage!

Every autumn I hear the geese overhead and I think about how all that honking serves only a single purpose:  to remind the stragglers they are headed in the right direction.  

It speaks courage to my own heart as I remember that not only does the leader call out to those behind, but that each bird takes a turn at the head of the line so that the others can rest a bit.  

What  beautiful picture of how life SHOULD be.  

Read the rest here:  Of Flying Geese and Calling Courage!

Hollow Words

We don’t mean to speak words that echo like a whistle in an empty auditorium.

But we do.

We open our mouths and pour out platitudes because that’s what’s been poured into us.

But we need to stop.  We need to listen.   

And then we need to respond to the heart that stands before us and not to our need to shut down and shut up and shut out another person’s pain.

compassion and stay with youIt’s hard to choose compassion.  It’s hard to lean in and listen well.  It’s hard to let our hearts get all tangled up with someone else’s when we could just walk away.

I am well aware that you have a life of your own full of drama, daily duties and demands.  I don’t want to drain you dry. 

Truly.

But I might need just a moment of your time and a bit of your courage to make it through my own darkness and despair.

One word.

One REAL word.

“I’m sorry.  That is awful.”

“I hate that you have this heavy burden.”

“How can I pray for you?”

“I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I’m here and not going anywhere.”

 

fluent in silence