They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I remember the first couple times I ventured out in public after Dominic left us and the flurry of activity surrounding his funeral was over.

I felt naked, afraid and oh, so vulnerable.  

The tiniest misplaced word or random glance could undo me and I burst into tears.  

And I remember the phone calls, cards, texts and Facebook messages from friends and family who truly wanted to encourage my heart but often chose the wrong words and pierced it instead.

I took offense.  Often.

But about a month or so into this journey, as I explored the edges of my pain and had time to think about how utterly different and unknowable it was without experiencing it, I realized that all those barbs were completely unintentional.

No one was aiming to hurt me.  They were walking in the dark and stepping on my toes because they couldn’t SEE, not because they desired to cause me pain.

I was just as clueless before it was ME who buried a child.

So I learned to extend grace-to look behind the words to the heart offering them.

Because they don’t know what they don’t know.  

And I hope to God they never do.

dont expect everyone to understand

No Contest: There’s Enough Heartache to Go Around

I may get jeered by my fellow bereaved parents but I’m committed to honesty so here it is: there is no hierarchy of grief and loss.

Now, am I saying that losing a dog is the same as burying a child?  Absolutely not!  I’ve written about that here.

But what I am saying is that grief, sorrow, loss and heartbreak comes to us in all shapes and sizes.  And what may be small to me may be huge to someone else.

In the past weeks I’ve been exposed to a number of people who were waiting for those magic minutes of visitation allowed for intensive care units.

Each one had a story.  

Each one had a cross to bear and a complicated life they were trying to maintain outside the additional stress and strain of a loved one hooked up to tubes and heart monitors.

None of them revealed (to me at least) that they were bereaved parents.

But I could clearly see pain, sorrow, grief and weariness etched in their furrowed brows. I could hear exhaustion in their voices as they placed phone call after phone call to update people that wanted to know how things were going but couldn’t make it to the hospital.  I noticed hope spring to life in each heart when the clock ticked toward the assigned visitation window and how they leaned forward willing those last seconds to fly by faster.

heart and wood

I knew they were hurting.  It didn’t matter if they hurt as much or less than me. There’s enough pain to go around in this life.

It isn’t a contest.

And I realized that because of my great grief and sorrow, I had a gift to share.  I could reach out and take a hand, listen to a story, hug a weary shoulder empathetically, gently and without judgement.

I understand the weight of hard things.

I know by experience that life can change in a single breath.  I carry both the ongoing burden of missing my son and the traumatic memory of life changed instantly by a knock on the door.   It’s made me stronger in ways I would not have chosen.

I will not squander that strength.

I will put my shoulder to the harness alongside my fellow humans and offer to help carry some of their burden.  I will extend my hand to the stumbling, strengthen the heart of the hurting and offer a listening ear to the one who has no one to talk to.

yoke-of-oxen

I cannot undo what I know.  I cannot undo what has brought them here or may take them to places THEY don’t want to go.

But I can be present.

I can refuse to turn away because I think their grief is small in comparison to my own.   

I can choose love.  

hands-passing-heart

 

Bone Deep Grief

My fellow bereaved mother and blogger, Kathleen Duncan, recently wrote that she felt she was done writing about grief.

It’s been  a little over four years since her son Andrew ran ahead to heaven and, as she explains:

I think I’m done.

I think I’m done writing about death. Writing and thinking about death, grief, and pain doesn’t help me anymore. And it may be detrimental for me to spend time writing about those topics. ~ Kathleen B. Duncan

Both our sons were killed instantly in an accident (although the details are different) and both were vibrant young men pursuing what they loved when they left this life.

That got me to thinking since I’m only a few months behind her in my own grief journey.

Because my experience seems to be very different from hers.  

I still find writing not only helpful, but healing.  And while I think of many things in addition to grief, I still think about grief often-not only my own, but that of others.  Not only the grief of bereaved parents, but of all the suffering, broken people I meet or hear about each day.

The feeling is different, but it remains.  

At first my grief was so overwhelming and the sorrow loomed so large that it was constantly before my eyes.  Everything I saw, heard, experienced or felt was filtered through tears.  The world was a blurry place and life was unbearably hard.  Every day I labored to lift my head from the pillow and roll my body from the bed.  Every morning I remembered afresh that Dominic was not here, that my family circle was broken, that another 24 hours loomed large and lonely before me.

It’s definitely not like that anymore.

But, for me, what’s changed is the location of my sorrow and sadness, not the FACT of it.

Now, instead of being in front of me, my sorrow has bored its way into my bones.  It rests deep inside the core of who I am, woven into the fabric of me.

I think of it like I think of being a mother.  

My “baby” is 25 years old.  But if I hear a plaintive “Mama!” in a store, I instinctively turn to see where the desperate or needy child may be.  I can’t resist even when my head tells me that whoever it is, isn’t MY responsibility.

My heart responds because “Mama” is an unchangeable part of my identity.

I don’t cry every day.  I don’t only see, feel or hear things through a veil of tears anymore. But bereavement has changed me forever.  It remains part of the way I experience the world.

I appreciate Kathleen.  I hate that we are part of the same “club” where the dues are higher than anyone would willingly pay but I love the precious community of loving parents who are willing to share their journeys through blogs, closed groups and published books.

And I am blessed by honesty, transparency and authenticity-whatever that looks like.

For me, that’s to continue writing about my grief journey.  For someone else, maybe not. 

There’s room for everyone because what calls courage to MY heart might not call courage to yours. 

I suspect that just as our children are unique, the circumstances surrounding their deaths unique and we are unique, so will be our grief experience. 

grief-is-as-individual-as-a-snowflake

 

What Does God’s Love Look Like?

If, as a believer in Christ, I abide in Him and am filled with His limitless love, why do I portion it out in such a miserly fashion?

I often act as though it were MY personal treasure house and that to give love freely diminishes my supply.

What foolishness!

God’s love is eternal and bottomless and as a conduit of that love He invites me to lavish love on others without fear of running out.

What does God’s love look like. It has hands to help others, it has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

~Augustine

Love is never wasted!

I want to love without limits and without fear, trusting God with my heart because He is the One Who fills it.

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

Give What You’ve Got

If you had asked me four years ago where I’d be and what I’d be doing in life, I can guarantee you that writing a blog and ministering to bereaved parents wouldn’t have been in the top 1000 answers I might have given.

But here I am.  

Because it is where I have been sent.

Not where I would have gone-oh, no!-I would have taken a ship in the opposite direction like Jonah if God had given me a heads up.  Instead I was whisked away on the waves of grief right out to sea.  

Gasping for breath and trying to keep my head above water, I realized that what I had needed early on were two things:  (1) assurance that what I was experiencing/feeling/thinking was normal; and (2) encouragement from others farther along in this journey that I could endure this awful pain.

So I stepped out in faith hoping that being authentic, transparent and sharing MY journey might help another heart desperate to know she wasn’t alone.

I decided that even if others misunderstood or took issue with or didn’t like what I wrote,  I would not pull any punches.  

It was going to be the good, the bad and the ugly.  

No holds barred.

Emotional nakedness-even if it meant embarrassment.  

And I pray every single time I hit “publish” that what I send into cyberspace is what at least one heart needs for THAT day.

It’s all I’ve got, and I’m giving it away.

go where sent stay where put give what youve got

It ALL Matters

I hate to admit it but I not only like to prioritize tasks I often prioritize people.

I divide them into two columns “Matters”  and “Doesn’t Matter” and give different weight and time and effort to each one depending on which side of the paper they are listed.

While that’s just fine for inanimate objects or household chores, it’s just plain wrong for relationships and people.

Because when I’m approaching another human being bearing the likeness of the God Who made him or her, I don’t get to decide how valuable they are.

That’s already been decided by Jesus Christ.

you are worth more than many sparrows

So my responsibility is to do precisely that task I have been sent to do at that moment-whether it is offering a smile, taking a meal, lending a helping hand or writing a note or making a phone call to encourage a tired heart.

Because it ALL matters.

 

Repost: Practical Ideas for Dealing With the Holidays After Child Loss

It cannot be overstated:  holidays are extremely hard after loss.  Every family gathering highlights the hole where my son SHOULD be, but ISN’T.

There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to handle the holidays after losing a child.

For many, there is only survival-especially the very first year.

These days also stir great internal conflict:  I want to enjoy and celebrate my living children and my family still here while missing my son that isn’t. Emotions run high and are, oh so difficult to manage.

Read the rest here:  Practical Ideas for Dealing with the Holidays after Child Loss