What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.  

In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”

It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group.  After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.

But, oh, when I did! What relief!  What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!

me too sharing the path

I have learned so much from these precious people.  

Here’s a few of the nuggets of wisdom I carry like treasure in my heart:  

Everyone has a story.  No one comes to tragedy a blank slate.  They have a life that informs how or if they are able to cope with this new and terrible burden.  Not everyone has the same resources I do-emotional, spiritual or otherwise.  Don’t put expectations on someone based on my own background.  Be gracious-always.  

Everyone deserves to be heard.  Some folks really only have one or two things that they insist on saying over and over and over again.  That’s OK.  If they are saying them, it’s because they need to be heard.  Lots of folks do not have a safe space to speak their heart.  But it’s only in speaking aloud the things inside that we can begin to deal with them.

Everyone (or almost everyone) is worried that they aren’t doing this “right”.  Society brings so much pressure to bear on the grieving.  “Get better”, “Get over it”, “Move on”.  And when we can’t, we think there is something dreadfully wrong with us.  But there isn’t.  Grief is hard and takes time no matter what the source.  But it is harder and takes a lifetime when it’s your child.  Out of order death is devastating.  “Normal” is anything that keeps a body going and a mind engaged in reality without being destructive to oneself or others.

Everyone can be nicer than they think they can.  Here’s the deal:  I THINK a lot of things.  I don’t have to SAY (or write!) them.  I’ll be honest, sometimes my first response to what someone shares is not very nice.  But when I take a breath and consider what might help a heart instead of hurt one, I can usually find a way to speak truth but also courage.  Snark is never helpful.  If I can’t say anything nice, then I just scroll on by.

Everyone has something to give.  I’ve learned that even the most broken, the most unlovely, the least well-spoken persons have something to offer.  It may take a little dusting off to find the beauty underneath, but my heart is stretched when I take time and put forth effort to truly listen to what’s being said instead of just ignoring it because of how it’s said.

Everyone deserves grace.  Because I am the recipient of grace, it is mine to give-without fear of running out-to every other heart I meet.  Sometimes I forget this.  I want to apply a different measure to others than I want applied to me.  But grace is the oil that greases human relationships.  Freely given and freely received, it provides a safe space for hearts to experience healing.

Everyone is standing on level ground when we gather at the foot of the cross.  There’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom.  We are all servants.  I am responsible to my Master for walking in love and doing the good works He has prepared beforehand for me to do.  My works are not your works and your works are not my works.  I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on others always trying to see if I(or they!) “measure up”.  The standard is our Shepherd and only grace and mercy can help me strive for that goal.

Everyone needs courage.  When Jesus gave His charge to the disciples He told them it was “better for you that I go”What??? How could that be better?  But it WAS.  Because when Jesus returned to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit as the personal, indwelt connection to Himself.  He knew they would need courage to make it through. The Spirit calls courage to our hearts.  And we are given the privilege of calling courage to one another.  The bravest among us quivers sometimes.  You’d be surprised how often one word is the difference between letting go and holding on.

There are dozens more things I could share.

I have met some of the kindest, wisest and most grace-filled people this side of child loss.

They have been the purest example of the Body of Christ I’ve ever known.  

I am thankful for what they are teaching me.

heart hands and sunset

How and Why I Keep Writing: A Shepherd’s Heart

I am still utterly amazed that since November 2015 I have managed a blog post every day.

At first, I was writing because I wanted to make public the things I was learning in this Valley and to honor my missing son.  

dominic at tims wedding

He had been in Heaven a year and a half by then and it was clear to this mama’s heart that (1) people (including ME before it WAS me!) had absolutely NO IDEA what life after child loss was like once the funeral was over;  (2) one way to redeem this pain was to share how God had been faithful even as I struggled; and (3) I just didn’t see too many honest portrayals of life after loss for Christ followers (which is not to say they didn’t/don’t exist but I hadn’t found them).

So I wrote.  

Then I realized (much to my surprise!) that there were mamas (and a few daddies) hanging on by such a tenuous thread to hope that my meager attempt at redeeming this pain was strengthening their grasp.

Then it became a ministry.

Shepherding is in my blood. 

I’ve been a shepherd my whole adult life-first to my own children and then to other children through various home school groups and activities.  Then God granted a desire of my heart when He allowed me to become  a “real” shepherd 20 years ago to a flock/herd of sheep and goats.

goat and mel on porch (2)

I’ve learned so, so much.  

I’ve learned that consistency is key. 

My herd depends on my faithful feeding and my peaceful presence.  They love routine and hate change.  They respond immediately to my voice and run straight to me when they are afraid.

They will endure nearly anything as long as they are assured it is from my loving hand.  

I am not able to shepherd every heart that reads this blog. 

But I hope that a bit of my shepherd’s love and care and compassion is present in each post.  

My desire is that consistency helps the hearts that congregate here every morning.  I long for my words to feed hope to you from time to time.  I pray that routine gives you something to look forward to even on the hard day.  I pray that I faithfully point you to the Shepherd of your soul who can provide shelter no matter where you are or what is chasing you.

sheperd

I pray that together we can endure and persevere and finish strong and well.  

I continue to write because I love you. 

I continue to write because if a single post reaches a single heart on the verge of giving up and helps that heart hold onto hope, then it is worth every minute I spend thinking about, composing and producing these posts.  

And, frankly, many of you have ministered hope to MY heart.  

hope holds a breaking heart together

Dom left for Heaven about when my nest became empty.  Thirty years of raising children and twenty-plus years of homeschooling came to an end right when my heart was dealt this grievous blow.

All the energy and time I had poured into shepherding my children was suddenly available for a new adventure at the very moment when adventure was the last thing on my mind.  

Sharing has turned survival into something beautiful.   

I am so thankful for that.

And I am oh, so grateful for each of you.

thank you

 

 

 

What Does it Mean to “Support” Someone?

Thank God for ADA requirements!

It wasn’t that many years ago when automatic doors were hard to find in places where they most certainly would have been helpful.

I remember approaching doors, arms full of bags and each hand grasping a child, hoping, hoping, hoping some nice person would be there to open it for me.

Many times there was.

Sometimes all I got was a glare and a sidestep from an empty-armed, able-bodied person.

I would manage to push the door open with my elbow but inside I was seething.

“Really?  Really!!  What makes you think getting out of the way is the same as opening the door?” 

(Thank goodness my thoughts are not displayed on an overhead sign! 🙂 )

In this Valley, I’ve discovered there is an emotional counterpart to the woman or fellow who refuses to actively help an overwhelmed mama.

There are those who see the burden I’m carrying and simply step aside.

I guess their rationale is that by not adding to the weight of my load, they somehow make it lighter. 

But it doesn’t work that way.  

As a matter of fact, knowing that my pain is seen but ignored is so much harder than thinking I’m just invisible.

Support means:

1. bear all or part of the weight of; hold up. 

2.  give assistance to; enable to function or act.

Support is going to cost you something.  It’s going to require action, time, energy, effort, commitment and resources. 

when the world whispers give up

I know it’s hard. 

Life is hard.  

But active, compassionate companionship is what knits hearts together no matter what struggle they are facing.  

And hearts that are bound by shared struggle and love are the strongest of all.  

friends uplift the soul little girl

 

 

Repost: Help! I Need Somebody!

So, almost twenty years on a farm and I can NOT back a trailer.  Nope.  Can’t do it.

One day I spent hours trying to teach myself how to do it.  Never was able to do anything other than manage to jackknife the trailer, go unhook it and start over.

So when I go somewhere with a trailer I do one of two things:  (1) I find a space where I can drive in and be able to just make a loop or (2) I find the nearest person who CAN back a trailer, hand them my keys and ask them to do it.

I feel NO shame.

But that’s not the case with other things I can’t do.

Read the rest here:  Help! I Need Somebody!

To The Ones Who Walk With Me: Thank You <3

I have never lived alone.

When I married at twenty I moved from my parents’ home to living with my new husband.

Within seven years of marriage, we had been joined by four precious children.

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

So even though I’m an introvert and crave quiet solitude, I’ve had precious little of it until the last couple of years.

Alone is good for many things.  It makes space to hear from God and to hear one’s own heart.

It can be a respite from the noise of our crazy, busy and LOUD world.

melanie and little bit

But alone is not the best way to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

If I isolate myself from others in this frightful place, darkness can overtake me.  My mind can embrace futility and hopelessness and convince my heart that there is no reason to push on.

There are songs that were never meant to be sung alone, valleys that were never meant to be walked alone. Grief is one of those valleys. And weeping is one of those songs.

~The North Face of God

Thankfully, I’ve not been alone on this journey. 

I’ve had beautiful family and friends who refused to leave me.  I’ve met amazing, brave bereaved parents who, even in their own grief, have lifted me up and spoken courage to my heart.

hhh retreat pics of kids (2)

And Godeven on the days when we haven’t been on speaking termshas not abandoned me. 

His faithful love endures forever.  His promises will not fail.  My name (just like Dominic’s!) is graven on His hands.

But He uses people to remind a heart of these promises and His love.

I will never be able to repay the people who have been “Jesus with skin on” to me! 

They are a gift,

a treasure,

a precious ointment to a wounded heart. 

friendship

 

Don’t Let It Fool You

Whether the burden is child loss, abuse, chronic illness or some other ongoing and unchangeable hard circumstance, it’s easy to get so good at acting “OK” you can almost fool yourself.

But all that stress and struggle exacts a cost.

Pretending that it doesn’t is not helpful at all.

So it’s wonderful when people ask about it.

It’s a gift when they let us share.

Awhile back another loss mom wrote this and gave me permission to use it: 

In case you ever wonder, please know that it is always, always OK to ask me about [Dominic]. 

I love to talk about him.

No, I’m not OK.  I’ll probably cry, but it’s just because it’s under the surface always, not because you asked.

And I don’t really know what people mean when they say “she’s doing well,” because if you knew what all goes on in my mind and body from grief-well, frankly you couldn’t handle it.

But it’s OK to bring it up.

Talking helps.  ❤

im ok face fools myself

What Can I DO? Start by Showing Up.

This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved. 

A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.

The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.

It made me dig deep in my memories for who did what in those first hours, first days and how it made a difference in our family’s ability to hold onto hope and to stumble forward in the heavy fog of grief, pain and sorrow that enveloped our hearts.

My friend was already committed to showing up and sitting silently and  lovingly with this child’s mother. I didn’t have to remind her of the power of compassionate companionship.

She was going. 

She was staying as long as it was helpful and necessary.

She was coming back as many times as needed.

And that is a gift!

love is courage

I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane.  It was Robbie-our “adopted” son.  As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie.  Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help.  I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.

And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little. 

Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!I was not going to walk this Valley alone.  They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here.  I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.

Others came.  Some did practical things, brought necessary items, helped me begin to think through next steps.  But many just sat with me and my children as we waited for my husband to fly in and my parents to drive up.

I cannot overstate how important SIMPLY BEING THERE was!

Thinking back on that time, I dug up some other very practical “first few days” things friends and family can do:

  • Bring disposable plates, cutlery and plenty of paper goods (toilet paper, kleenex, napkins) along with extra trash bags.
  • Place a notebook and pens near the spot folks might drop off meals or other things and ask that they write their names and what they brought inside.  My daughter did this for me and while I was often unable to acknowledge it at the time (or unaware of the blessing) I had a record that is dear to me still.
  • Set up an online meal planning/scheduling group. Make sure to note allergies or special food needs because while it’s wonderful to have food provided, it’s not helpful if the family can’t eat it because of dietary restrictions.
  • If there are unwashed clothes belonging to the childDO NOTwash them in an attempt to help out.  It may sound awful to anyone who has not buried a child, but nearly every mom I know wanted something with her child’s scent still on it.  I have a few things of Dom’s that are in a sealed plastic bag.  Every so often I open it and inhale what’s left of his fragrance.  Smell is such a powerful memory stimulant.
  • Begin to collect photographs from online sources, friends and family so that there will be many to choose from if the family wants to make a video for services.
  • Bring disposable Lysol wipes or something similar for quick clean ups in bathrooms and the kitchen.  Discreetly tidy up whenever possible or necessary.
  • Do NOT move papers, piles of mail, etc. without the family’s permission.  It may seem like a good idea at the time to make things neat for visitors, but it will be a nightmare later!  My brain is nearly empty of details for most of the first month after Dominic left us.  I depended on routine and familiar spots to remember where important items might be for the first year.  If something had been moved, I could not locate it, no matter how hard I tried.  If somethingHAS to be moved, place it in a box-clearly labeled-and attach a prominent note on the refrigerator or someplace like that indicating where it is.
  • Just sit and listen.  Or just sit in silence.  Whatever is most helpful to the bereaved parents and their family. Loving presence kept me anchored to this world when all I wanted to do was float away somewhere the pain couldn’t find me.

Compassionate companionship makes the difference between a heart holding onto hope or letting go and falling into the abyss.

Trust me.

I know.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh