Busy

My empty nest means I’m rarely crazy busy even around the holidays.  

I no longer have to fit in shopping whenever I can manage it because little eyes might be watching or Christmas choir performances and church programs fill the calendar.  

No.  

Most of my shopping is online and I don’t even have to worry about whisking gifts off the porch before anyone sees them.

I’m a different kind of busy now.  

I’m busy making sure I’m not overexposed to Christmas commercials, Christmas movies or Christmas carols because they are likely to open the floodgates of tears I keep behind a dam of determination.

I’m busy drawing deep breaths when I pick up the phone and it’s a relative that never calls but needs an address for a Christmas card and, since I’m apparently the Keeper of the Addresses, always calls me.

I’m busy looking away from the childhood photos lining my upstairs hallway so I can stay focused on the vacuuming that needs doing.

I’m busy pinning down fruitless thoughts of “what if” or “if only” or “I wish”.

I’m busy getting things ready for the brief time my remaining family will be gathered around the dining room table.  I’m trying hard to accommodate schedules and preferences and favorite foods and treasured traditions.

I’m busy pushing back sadness that threatens to overwhelm me in the dark of the year when clouds and rain make it even darker, even earlier.  I’m lighting candles, plugging in lights and adding cheerful touches here and there to drive out the shadows that come creeping.

From the outside looking in, I’m awash in free time and easy choices.  

And some folks wonder why I don’t answer the phone or join in the party.  

But I am very, very busy.  

I was busy

Another Year, Another Christmas: 25 Practical Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

This is the fifth Christmas without Dominic. There really are no words to describe the intersection of holiday cheer and another milestone in this journey of child loss.

I’m not sad all the time-far from it. Often I am very, very happy.

But I will never stop missing him, missing the family we used to be and missing our blissful ignorance of how quickly and utterly life can change in an instant.

And I will never outgrow the need to have others remember him as well, to encourage my heart and the hearts of my family members and to help us make it through another year, another Christmas.  ❤

Here are some great ways to do it:  25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

Good Answers to Hard (Insensitive,Inappropriate) Questions

I was utterly amazed at the questions people plied me with not long after Dominic’s accident.

They ranged from digging for details about what happened (when we ourselves were still unsure) to ridiculous requests for when I’d be returning to my previous responsibilities in a local ministry.

Since then, many of my bereaved parent friends have shared even more questions that have been lobbed at them across tables, across rooms and in the grocery store.

Recently there was a post in our group that generated so many excellent answers to these kinds of questions, I asked permission to reprint them here (without names, of course!).

So here they are, good answers to hard (or inappropriate or just plain ridiculous) questions:

When asked to do something the week or month or even year after your child left:

  • No.  (It’s a complete sentence.  You do not have to give an explanation.)
  • Thank you for asking me.  I won’t be able to participate this time.
  • I’m so sorry.  This is a hard time of year for me and I just can’t do it.
  • Since my son’s accident, I don’t do well at holidays (or summer, or birthday month).  I can’t take on any extra responsibilities right now.
  • I’m sorry, we will be out of town. (If you really WILL be out of town.)

When asked about the details of your child’s death:

  • Why do you ask? (Stops them nearly every time.)
  • That’s an uncomfortable question that I’d rather not answer.
  • Does it matter?
  • We choose not to talk about his/her death and prefer to talk about his/her life.  Would you like to know something about him/her?
  • I prefer not to relive that trauma, thank you.

When asked, “How are you?”:

  • About as you would imagine given the circumstances.
  • Managing to do what must be done but very sad my son (or daughter) is no longer here with me.
  • Trying hard to put the pieces back together.  It’s a struggle every day.
  • Our family is loving one another through the hardest thing we’ve ever experienced.
  • How are YOU?  (Most won’t even notice you didn’t answer and will launch into their own discourse.)

When asked if you think you’re “back to normal” or “over it”:

  • No.  (It’s a complete sentence, see above.)
  • I’ll never be over my child. I’m not over any of my children.  How could I be?
  • My life has been shattered.  I can’t even find all the pieces much less assemble them into whatever normal used to be.
  • I don’t remember what “normal” is.
  • It’s a daily adjustment that I will be making for the rest of my life.

When asked anything at all that seems insensitive, inappropriate or just downright nosey:

  • I’m so sorry, I need to go.  Bye!
  • I can’t talk about that now.
  • Say nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Until they change the subject for you.
  • How are you?  Your children?  (Or any other question back at them-ignoring theirs)

I am obligated (by my profession of faith) to be as kind and polite as I can be but I am not obligated to answer every question someone asks.  

I’ve found that having some of these pat answers in my pocket helps.  Many of them are good for just about any question that may come my way.  

I try to deflect, demur or redirect.  

But when that fails I’m just as likely to tell the truth, which is often not at all what the person really wants to hear.  

And then they are left scrambling for a way out of a conversation I never wanted to have in the first place. 

Which is fine with me.  

silent with heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repost: How to Survive December With a Broken Heart

It comes up again and again-and not just for the parents facing their year of “firsts”:  How do I survive December with a broken heart?

There’s no single answer or list of things to do that will suit every family.

But there are some general principles that can make even this awful reality a little easier.

Read the rest here:  How To Survive December With a Broken Heart

NO Substitute For Rest

Some of us just don’t like sitting down.

That would be me.

I’ve always got the next thing to do written on a slip of paper somewhere and even if I can’t find that list, it’s hardwired into my brain.

Decades of guiding a busy household have worn ruts in my routine so that after my morning coffee I am compelled to get up and get going. 

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

Writing here has given me a little cushion since some mornings words pour out of me and I have to get them down before they escape my memory.  But even so, I might only extend my sitting time by an hour or so.

When the sun gets up good in the sky, that’s my cue to get up too.  Animals need feeding and even though there’s only me to feed at home I’m usually cooking for some event or someone else.

So I find it hard to rest-even when I need to and even when it is the difference between getting well and getting worse.

But this past week I’ve had to dial it back-a lot.  Some nasty cold took up residence in my chest and traveled to my ears.  It was the earache that sent me to the doctor even though the cough sounded like it was coming from my toes and just wouldn’t stop.

Thankfully a wise practitioner gave me the right mix of medicines and sent me home to let them work their magic.

I expected the antibiotics and steroid to kick in and kick that rotten bug right out.  But they didn’t.  In fact, although the earache dissipated by the next morning, I woke up feeling WORSE than when I had dragged myself to the clinic.

The prescription was clear:  Rest was what I needed. 

My family very sweetly kept reminding me of that when I forgot (at least once per hour!). But I stubbornly refused to rest as much or as often as I should have.

So it has taken longer than necessary for me to feel better.  

And once again I am learning the absolute necessity of REST to aid a body-or a heart-toward healing.  There is simply NO substitute for giving your body or emotions or spirit the space and time and leisure it needs to do the work that only it can do for itself.

When our schedules are piled high (even with good things!) and we don’t make a place for rest in our daily and weekly lives, we predispose (maybe guarantee?) ourselves toward crisis.  It might be a health crisis due to a weakened immune system or an emotional crisis because we just don’t have the energy or margin left to deal with people’s words or attitudes.

margin

For those of us already carrying the burden of child loss into this extra busy season, we have to find time to rest. 

We have to make space for solitude. 

We must declare some portion of our day or week a “drama free” zone.  

If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves exactly where we don’t want to be.  

Our bodies, minds and hearts will demand it-one way or the other.  

rest field

The Importance of Making Space for Grief During Holidays

We are days away from plunging headfirst into the rough and tumble holiday season.  

Thursday is  Thanksgiving and I don’t know about you, but it seems that once I eat the turkey and dressing, the clock moves faster and the days crowd one another in a race to Christmas and the end of the year.

So I want to take a minute to think about how important it is to make and maintain space for grief during this busy season.

You have to do it.  

I know, I know-where to fit it in between family gatherings, social engagements, mandatory office parties and children’s pageants?

If you don’t, though, the grief will out itself one way or another.  

So may I offer the following practical suggestions for this upcoming holiday season?

  • Start each day (whenever possible) with a few minutes of alone time.  Let those moments be the buffer between you and the day ahead.  Don’t allow your mind to wander to your “to do” list.  Sit.  Sip the hot beverage of your choice and let silence soothe your soul.
  • Don’t overschedule your days (or nights!).  Exercise the option of saying, “no” to things that are not really important or necessary.  Just because you have done it every other year doesn’t obligate you to do it this year.  Exhaustion always magnifies despair.  
  • Try to balance busy days with not so busy days.  The surest path to meltdown is traveling in the fast lane.
  • Let other people take on responsibilities-especially if they offer- and even if they don’t.  Asking for help when you need it is a sign of maturity, not a sign of weakness.
  • Keep a pad and pen on your nightstand and jot down any random thoughts that you don’t want to forget before bedtime.  There is no sense worrying about something you can’t address until morning and writing it down means you won’t forget it.
  • Make use of online everything.  Have gifts sent directly to recipients.  Order groceries for pick up.  There are many ways to make life less hectic and more enjoyable.  If you don’t know what’s available in your area, ask friends and family.
  • Plan for at least one recovery day for every large gathering/party/meal you have to attend.  Some of us need two.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.  If you are used to having matching everything, perfect centerpieces and gourmet meals it may be hard to lower your standards.  But if there is one thing I have learned since Dominic ran ahead to heaven, it’s that the companionship of those we love trumps anything else.  People rarely remember how you set your table but they will remember who sat around your table.
  • And if your heart is too tender to do anything but hold on and hope this month passes quickly, then do that.  You don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations.  Sometimes that’t the best we can do and that is OK.

Grief requires so. much. energy.

And you can’t spend the same energy twice.

So make space for grief in your holiday plans.  

bereaved parents have one job during the holidays to survive

Letting Go of Extra Responsibilities

I’ve always been quick to volunteer.  

Often the “yes” flies out of my lips before my brain has engaged.

That lands me in all kinds of trouble.

But I’m trying to learn to bite my tongue until I can take stock of just how taking on another responsibility may push me over the edge.

I’m walking on a razor thin rim around the pit of despair-especially this time of year and it doesn’t take much for me to fall in.

depair

I know that other people think, “Well it’s been nearly five years!”  And I understand that to them, it seems like plenty of time to get my act together, to figure out how to live with child loss, to grow strong enough to shoulder whatever burden they think I have left and just get on with life.

But what they don’t understand is that this journey requires constant adjustments, has unending and new challenges and truly is uphill all the way. 

There’s no coasting-it’s ALL hard.  

walking-up-a-hill

Think for a minute how overwhelmed you are with all the activity, demands for baked goods, invitations, shopping, cooking, visiting, managing family responsibilities, hectic schedules and every thing else that the holidays entail.

Now multiply that times one hundred or a thousand. 

That’s what it feels like for me and other wounded hearts trying to juggle ongoing pain and the holidays.

I want to participate.  I want to be the old me that could say “yes” to every request.  But I’m not that person anymore.

I will do what I can do.  

I will say “no” to what I can’t do.  

And I won’t feel guilty for preserving my energy and my sanity.  

When coping with difficult disappointment or stress, it’s wise to let go of what you really, truly don’t need. Give some of your responsibilities, if you can, to someone else. Delegate what someone else can do. Say ‘no’ to new assignments or projects that aren’t absolutely necessary, and again, don’t feel bad about it. Don’t only accept help, ask for it — and be specific.

After all, when the storm has passed and you’re feeling stronger, you’ll be able to pick up those responsibilities again.

~Steven Earp, Storms of Life