New Year Goals Revisited: When Blank Slate Meets Full Plate

Oh, how I love a fresh new calendar!

It’s full of promise and lots of space for all the wonderful ideas I jot down when sitting in my chair fantasizing about how much time, energy and strength I’ll have in the coming weeks.

And then comes reality.

So even though THIS year I only publicly shared self care goals for 2020, I’m here to tell you-it ain’t lookin’ good.

I admit that many kind readers pointed out that twenty goals for anything (self care or not!) was a little ambitious.

They were right.

I got about a week into the new year when three commitments for February were added to the list. One is a scripture study conference which I will absolutely love and doesn’t require anything but my presence. One is a speaking engagement at a local church’s women ministry event (I’m working on the notes now) and another is a three day retreat for bereaved moms in Mississippi.

While that might not seem like much, in addition to daily writing, feeding critters, work in and outside our house plus administration of a closed Facebook group for bereaved parents, it adds up.

So some of those lofty goals are being laid aside or modified.

I promised accountability so here’s an update.

I’ve been much better at reading Scripture every day. Not as much as I had hoped, but more than I had toward the end of last year.

I’m walking every single day that the weather allows. I’m up to 1.4 miles in about 30 minutes and my hips have gone from screaming to only whispering their objections. I hope to make it to 2 miles most days at a pace of 15 minutes per mile. (We’ll see how that goes!)

I am limiting the number of times I automatically say “yes” to every request for my attention. I’ve even (gasp!)let the phone go to voicemail when it’s someone I know but it’s simply not convenient to talk right now. I call back later when it works better for me.

I’m decluttering and establishing a daily rhythm that supports some of my goals and learning to let go of others that apparently just aren’t going to happen right now.

I’m reading more.

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I’ve watched many sunsets and even caught January’s full moon!

I’m making lists of “Things to Do on Rainy Days” and “Things to Do on Sunny Days” and work from whichever is most appropriate on a given day. Slowly, slowly I’m whittling down my outdoor work. I’ll never be finished but I’ve stopped accusing myself as I walk the property and enjoy the fresh air.

I don’t know what, exactly, I expected from middle age and an empty nest, but I think I thought it might be a little less hectic than those years of raising and educating a household of kids.

It is, in many respects, less hectic. Most of the demands placed on me are not time sensitive to the minute or hour.

But there is just as much to do.

And perhaps that’s how it should be.

I’ve always said that, like Amy Carmichael, “I want to burn out, not rust out”.

I’ve got a new grandbaby who is going to be one in March!

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I might not accomplish all the goals I set for myself earlier this year but I hope to accomplish every single thing God has for me to do as long as I have breath.

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Do You Wonder If Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/12/will-it-ever-get-better/

What Are Healthy Boundaries in Grief?

As a people-pleasing first born who hates conflict, giving in has always been  easy for me. It’s only later that I wish I hadn’t.

So for most of my life, setting personal boundaries has been challenging.

But in the aftermath of child loss, healthy boundaries are no longer optionalthey are necessary for survival.  

So what are healthy boundaries?

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/01/10/healthy-boundaries-in-grief/

Solitude or Isolation? Which is it?

I’ve always loved my alone time.

As an introvert (who can, if pressed pretend not to be!) my energy is restored when I interact with one or two folks or no one at all.  A dream afternoon is writing while listening to nothing louder than the wind chimes outside my door.

I treasure solitude.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I find I need even more alone time than before.

That quiet place is where I do my most effective grief work, undisturbed by interruptions and distractions.

But I need to be careful that solitude doesn’t shift into isolation. 

I have to remind my heart that spending time with others keeps me from falling so deeply down the well of despair that all I see is darkness.

I need human interaction to keep me connected to a world that, quite frankly, I might sometimes just as soon leave behind.

So how can I tell the difference between solitude and isolation?

Here are a few questions that help me figure that out:

  • Do I feel lonely, neglected or abandoned? If my alone time feels less like a gift and more like an unwelcome burden then it may be isolation rather than solitude.
  • Where are my thoughts taking me? Being alone is often the only way to “hear” my own thoughts without having to block out the noise and activity of other people. If I am sitting with myself, processing hard things or even beautiful things, resolving internal conflict, conjuring new ways to deal with difficult relationships or situations then solitude is doing its work. If, instead, I find my mind tangled up in fearful knots, filled with negative self-talk or unable to break a downward spiral into despair then I probably need to find someone to talk to.
  • Am I getting stronger or being drained? After the holidays or other hectic seasons I need time alone to recharge my batteries. Often it is almost a day-for-day exchange. I can feel tension melting away and strength returning. My mind begins to clear and life doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Solitude grants space for my body, mind and soul to be refreshed. When it slides into isolation I can feel the shift. Instead of waking refreshed and eager to greet a free day, I wake to dreading another long one alone. Instead of energy rising in my spirit, I can feel it draining away. Instead of thinking kindly of friends and family who choose to leave me be, I’m resentful no one has checked up on me.
  • Is there a helpful rhythm to my days alone or am I counting the hours until sundown? When I’m enjoying solitude, the hours feel like a welcome opportunity to do things (or not do things!) at my own pace and according to my own preferences. I sit with pen in hand and jot down a list knowing that if I complete it or if I don’t the only person I have to answer to is myself. No pressing appointments and no worrisome commitments. When I’m isolating, the hours feel like a long march through deep mud-every step tedious, treacherous and exhausting. I’m alone but I’m not getting any benefit from it. If I’m enduring instead of enjoying then I’m isolating.
  • Do I have an endpoint in mind? When I look ahead at a week on my calendar, I try to balance alone time with social commitments. A day or two alone (or with limited human interaction) is solitude. A week holed up in the house is isolation. If I find myself pushing off needed outings (to the grocery store, to run errands) then I ask myself, “why?”. Often it’s because I’ve drifted from solitude (helpful alone time) to isolation (unhelpful hiding).

I can shift myself out of isolation by choosing just one small social interaction.

I might text or message a friend, go to the grocery store and make a point of speaking to the clerk, call someone or show up at a church or community event even if I sit in the back and slip out early.

I’m never going to be that person who is up for every outing. That’s just not how I’m made and child loss has intensified my need for solitude.

But I don’t want to be alone and lonely, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of my own making.

Some days it’s harder than others.

But I keep trying.

How A Phone Call a Day [Almost] Keeps the Panic Away

A few days ago I wrote about how panic is always just a breath away for those of us who have suffered loss.  

Like a friend of mine recently said, “We are branded.  GRIEF is burned into our hearts and we are never the same.”

So how to live this altered life?  

How can I manage that emotional tension that saps energy and strength from my heart, mind and body?

Our family has adopted some practical protocols that help.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/08/practical-protocols-to-mitigate-panic-after-loss/

Grieving Differently: Growing Apart or Growing Stronger?

It’s no secret that men and women are different.

It’s the subject of everything from romantic comedies to hundreds of books.

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” and all that.

So it shouldn’t surprise those of us walking this Valley that our spouse may be grieving very differently than we do. But it often does. Because everything is amplified when it echoes off the high mountains on either side.

And just when we need it most-for ourselves and for extending to others-grace is often in short supply.

So differences become offenses and offenses stack like bricks to build a wall between us and the one person as intimately connected to our missing child as we are.

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Instead of holding each other up, we sometimes tear each other down. Instead of leaning in, we pull away. Instead of talking, we tune out.

Instead of crying together, we cry alone.

Even when we open up and try to address these differences it often ends in disagreement or is met with silence.

That’s discouraging.

I firmly believe that grief doesn’t really change the fundamentals in a relationship but it magnifies them. We all have cracks in our marriages. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect couple regardless of how lovely the photos might be.

Child loss makes the cracks more evident. What might be ignored otherwise, becomes unavoidable. Add gender differences to the load of grief and it’s no wonder many of us struggle.

So how can a marriage survive?

Here are a few pointers:

  • Admit that you and your spouse are different people. Your life experiences, gender and personality affect how each of you grieve. Different isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.
  • Purpose to assume the best and not the worst of your spouse. When he or she makes a comment or shoots you a “look” don’t immediately ascribe dark motives. It may be she’s having an especially bad day or he is tired or distracted.
  • Look for common ground. When you are both in a neutral environment and rested, ask your spouse what they need from you. Then listen without being defensive. It could be that seeing you cry upsets him so that’s why he tries to shut you down. She might long to hear him say their child’s name aloud. Even if nothing changes, sometimes being heard makes a difference.
  • Consider couples’ counseling. Having someone outside your immediate grief circle listen to and guide you through feelings, concerns and problems is almost always helpful. It might only take a few sessions to give you both the tools necessary to walk yourselves through the rough patches.
  • Talk TO your spouse instead of ABOUT him or her. This can be a hard one! I think we all need a safe friend or two who will let us vent. That’s healthy. But it’s not healthy to talk about our spouse to others in what amounts to a bid for support of our own opinions and prejudices. Gathering wood for the fire of offense is easy. Putting out the blaze (even if you want to) is hard.
  • Remember that when feelings fluctuate, commitment carries you through. Grief isn’t just one emotion, it’s a tangled ball of emotions. On a given day you might feel sad, disoriented, angry, anxious and despondent. All that emotional weight is added to whatever else you may be feeling about your spouse. Sometimes it’s just too much to bear and running away seems like the most logical answer. But it’s not. We can never run far enough or fast enough to get away.

There’s no magic to marriage before or after child loss.

It’s mostly work.

We can choose to do that work together in spite of our differences.

We can choose to grow stronger instead of growing apart.

****FULL DISCLOSURE****

My husband and I do not do this perfectly or even close to perfectly. But we are still trying. At different points in this long (almost) six years, we’ve been better or worse at all of it. So don’t think if you are struggling it means you can’t get hang on. Sometimes it’s by the tips of your fingernails, but if you refuse to let go, you can make it.

❤ Melanie

Holiday Grief Survival Guide

There are many days throughout the year that present special challenges to grieving parents.

Some are known only to their hearts and require escaping to the secret place where memories are stored and love is kept.

But others loom large on every calendar.

Thanksgiving. Christmas. Hanukkah.

Those require both invisible strength and a very visible public presence at family gatherings and other holiday events.

I’ve written lots of posts on how to make it through the holidays but I really like this succinct and easy-to-share Holiday Grief Survival Guide infographic. It covers the basics and is a helpful way to shepherd a hurting heart through the holidays. ❤

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