Looking For Normal

There are lots of social media memes floating around about 2020 being an interminably long series of disaster after disaster.

“If only it would end”, is the hidden hope whispered inside hearts longing for the calendar to turn from one year to the next.

“If only things would get back to normal!”

But there’s no magic in how we humans divide the days or months or years as this big blue marble travels round the sun and through the universe. It’s simply a convenient way to mark time.

And there’s no guarantee that time, by itself, rights anything. There’s no promise in the next sunrise that what’s been broken will be mended.

The rest of the world is learning what bereaved parents have known ever since the awful reality of child loss was laid at the door of their hearts: there’s no way back to “normal” once your world is violently torn from its moorings.

All you can do is assess the damage, pick up whatever pieces may still be viable and try your best to cobble them back together into usable shape.

(Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

Some use the term, “new normal”, to describe a state that (most bereaved parents) eventually reach. A way of walking in the world with a profound limp, a wounded heart, a half-smile that hides tears threatening behind tightly closed eyes.

We make adjustments because we have to. The world doesn’t stop and ask permission before continuing on its merry way.

I would not wish this pandemic on a single soul.

I grieve (maybe more than many) over every person lost to Covid19. I cry every time I hear of another lonely elder separated by glass from human hugs and family kisses. I am counting the cost of witnessing traumatic deaths for nurses and doctors who have to hold hands as well as treat illness because visitors are not allowed in the rooms of the dying.

We haven’t begun to assess all the ways this pandemic is changing and will change us-individually and communally.

But if you’re waiting for 2020 to end, for a magic vaccine or for some other relatively instant and far-reaching cure to transform current reality, I think you will be waiting a long time (if not a lifetime).

I think, that like me, you will have to work through your own feelings and fears. You will have to decide what risks you can take.

You will have to figure out who and what in life is non-negotiable and hold onto that with both hands no matter what else happens.

Bereaved parents are good at this because we have to be.

If you are looking for trailblazers through unprecedented tragedy and unfriendly territory, follow them.

They can show you how it’s done.

When The Big Things Feel Out Of Control…

It’s a lesson I learned decades ago and have honed over the years.

When the big things feel out of control, focus on the small ones right in front of your face.

It has served me well since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Right now there are so, so many big things outside my control-not just the ones all of us are facing like the pandemic, or job loss, or trying to figure out how to navigate a world where you can’t hug your friends or even see their smiles-but many in my own family.

So I’m getting up every morning and looking for the one or two or twenty (if they are small!) things I love and can do something about.

In practice (for me) it looks like this: taking a morning walk along with feeding my critters (stopping to notice butterflies, lovely flowers, falling leaves, sunlight through the trees and sticking my nose in my horses’ manes); sweeping off the front porch and tidying the kitchen so my eyes can rest happy on clear spaces (even though the rest of the house is out of order due to major reorganization/moving rooms); putting my hair up and washing my face; writing (obviously); choosing one corner to clean well and declare “finished”; taking an afternoon walk with my son’s little dog and laughing silently as her tiny legs churn away keeping up with me; smelling hay as I toss it to the donkeys; reading bits of books (my attention span still isn’t what it used to be); chatting with friends and family online or on the phone; resting after a long day’s work by watching old British mysteries with lots of interesting characters and no bloody violence; embroidering or crocheting until bedtime and sleeping with open windows.

It will undoubtedly look different for you.

And my list has taken years to develop-when Dom first left us I most often only managed a walk and maybe a little reading or journaling.

But you can begin by jotting down things that used to bring you pleasure or feed your passion.

Then just do something.

Anything.

Just one tiny little thing you love.

How Deep Is The Mud? Depends On Who You Ask.

It takes energy and effort to try to see something from another person’s perspective.

It also takes courage.

Because once I try to understand how another heart may be going through the same thing as mine but having a very different experience it can make me wonder if I really DO know it all.

If it’s not as hard for me maybe I’m not superior, just lucky.

If it’s harder for me maybe I’m not stupid or lazy or inferior, just not as strong or well-equipped for this particular task.

It’s an exercise in humility either way.

One I need to practice every. single. day.

What About The Holidays?

I know it’s still rather warm in many parts of the United States but like it or not the holidays are coming.

And this year promises to be more difficult for everyone.

Now it’s not only the bereaved trying to avoid the mines of tradition set amidst the fields of fall and winter celebrations.

We are all going to have to manage different expectations, needs, comfort zones, fears and anxieties.

Christmas is coming - Home | Facebook

So, in hopes of helping families have the hard discussions sooner rather than later, I’m going to share a series of posts I wrote several years ago.

We’ll start with this one-helpful hints on how to have those conversations. ❤

You don’t have to bury a child to know that changing long-standing family traditions around holidays is a hard, hard thing.

Just ask a parent trying to work out Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time after an adult child marries.  Suddenly the way things have “always been” are no longer the way things are.

Holidays typically involve so many more people and family members than everyday get-togethers and each person brings expectations, emotions and personal history to the table.”

Read the rest here: Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

Many Kinds Of Grief: Eight Ways To Help Your Heart In Hard Times

Long time readers may have noticed that the past month there have been fewer original posts and more recycled ones.

I’m not sure precisely why, but it’s been a lot harder to put my thoughts and feelings into words than at any other time in this journey.

I’ve started and abandoned post after post. They languish in my “drafts” file and will, hopefully, eventually, be completed.

There’s just something about the rest of the world being forced to live in the no-man’s-land between what we used to take for granted and what we now have to face that makes it harder to talk about my personal experience.

Grief takes many forms and I believe the whole world is grieving now.

I can hear it. I can feel it.

All of us are facing (many for the first time!) the fact that control is largely an illusion. We climb into our vehicles and assume the person coming at us in the other lane will maintain their position but don’t know that he or she is distracted or medically impaired or drunk.

And then-BAM!-all bets are off. What we take for granted can change in an instant.

So I guess my challenge is in translating my particular grief into language others can understand and relate to.

For the first time I feel there’s a wider audience longing for the secret recipe to life after loss.

I know not every heart is suffering from physical loss of a loved one but I think there are some general principles I’ve learned that can help anyone who’s struggling to find a path through this difficult season:

  • Acknowledge what you’ve lost. It often helps to name what’s changed, what you miss, what you’ve had to give up. It may seem obvious but you might be surprised. When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I knew I’d no longer have HIM. But what I didn’t realize at first was that I also lost the family I once knew (we were all changed), the me I used to be and the life I thought I’d have. There are Secondary Losses hidden inside every grieving heart.
  • Face your feelings. Consider journaling your thoughts. Often speaking or writing out a feeling is the first step to dealing with it. Grief isn’t just one feeling-although we tend to think of it that way. It’s A Tangled Ball of Emotions. I had no clue until it was me trying to unravel the strands and understand what to do with them. Emotions will leak out somewhere. Are you short-tempered and cranky? There’s probably something underneath those outward signs.
  • Think about your strengths and coping skills. What has helped you get through tough times in the past? How can you use the same set of skills or tools to tackle this challenge? Child loss is the greatest and most difficult thing I’ve ever faced. If you had asked me in the first five minutes if I’d survive I would have told you, “no way”. But I have. Largely by leaning into my faith in Christ (which I know not everyone shares) and depending on coping skills I learned over the years dealing with chronic illness and other hard things. What have you survived in the past? Use that to get through this.
  • Stay connected to the people who matter most to you. Social distancing is an unfortunate label for what is actually physical distancing. Social media, smartphones, Skype, Zoom meetings and other electronic means of connection are widely available and can help a heart stay in touch with friends and loved ones. When someone feels isolated he or she is much more apt to give up and give in. Humans were made for community. If you can’t be physically next to people, find another way to get close and stay in touch. It might well require more effort but it’s worth it.
  • Make a new routine. It’s not just babies that thrive on schedules. We all need a semblance of control and normalcy. Eat at regular times. Set up a work station/school station if the virus is keeping you at home. If possible, make sure each day includes some physical activity and outdoor air. Exercise, hobbies, family story time or shared movies are all things that could be included. Try to go to bed and get up at about the same time each day. For several months after Dominic left us, I wrote each day’s plan on an index card. When I found myself at loose ends, sitting staring into space and sinking into despair, I consulted my card. I moved on to the next thing and eventually found I’d made it through yet another day.
  • Limit your media diet. Let’s face it-most of us are easily drawn into an “us vs. them” mentality. And once we begin to think in those terms it’s harder and harder to see beauty in the world. It’s one thing to remain informed and it’s another to be absorbed by all the things over which we have no control. Focus on smaller things-friends, family and community. That’s where a heart can make a difference.
  • Practice discernment and draw a line between what is inconvenient and what is truly tragic. Lots of things can FEEL like the end of the world but very few things actually ARE. Life has changed dramatically but it’s still life. Work and school look different. Masks are uncomfortable. Celebrations might be virtual. Shopping without trying on clothes is a hassle. But none of those things equate to death or loss of income or being unable to visit an elder in a nursing home. There are absolutely, positively tragic aspects to this experience and (sadly) one or more of them may visit your family. But unless and until they do, save your energy in fretting over (relatively) minor inconveniences.
  • Remember that there are more chapters to your story. All of us have dark pages in the books of our lives. Some of us have several chapters’ worth. But as long as there is life, there is hope. My family HAS survived child loss/sibling loss. We are different, we are wounded, but we have survived. Some of the things we have learned are truly beautiful (although we wouldn’t have chosen to learn them this way). If you listen and pay attention, you will learn things too.

Truth is, grief can drag you down so low you don’t remember which way is up, much less how to get there. No one knows that better than a bereaved parent.

Still, there are things you can do even there that will help your heart hold onto hope.

Where there is hope there is light.

And light will always, always chase away the shadows.

Lots Going On

I wrote a few months ago about how the pandemic changed the routine around here.

My long quiet mornings spent reading and writing were suddenly transformed by our living room serving as office space for my work-at-home husband.

It took awhile to figure out how to adapt but eventually we found a rhythm to our days.

Now life has taken another turn. He’s retiring! Which is a very, very good thing but means I’ve got another boatload of adjusting to do.

Since he’s had an apartment in California for several years, he returned to clean it out and move things here. I need to declutter and rearrange at home to make space for some furniture and other items he’ll be bringing back.

I wish I had been one of those people who spent the past few months of stay-at-home to dig into closets, deep clean corners and dejunk junk drawers but I wasn’t. So that means I’m trying to do it now. Which is not only time consuming but sometimes overwhelming as decades of daily memories fall out of folders, show up in odd places and hit my heart.

I’m soldiering on though.

I doubt I’ll tackle the toughest space-Dominic’s room-before my hubby makes it home. But I’ll have most of the rest of the place shipshape.

Until he brings that truckload to the door.

I better take pictures.

It may be the last time the house looks this good.

I’m On Your Side. Whatever Side You Land On.

Maybe I’m just old and tired.

Maybe it’s grief brain or my autoimmune disease or some other biological issue of which I’m ignorant.

But I just don’t have the energy to be on guard, to defend my “territory”, to argue with everyone who might hold a different opinion or who might be experiencing life from a different perspective.

Oh, I still HAVE opinions. And I share them with family and close friends in places and spaces where we can see one another’s faces, expressions and hear the intonation in our voices.

But I refuse to debate the cause du jour on social media in hopes of raising a ruckus or getting “likes” or “shares” to feed my ego and feed the frenzy.

It seems to me the world needs more grace and less growling.

Give The Gift Of Grace Today | Nicki Schroeder

So let me just be plain: I’m on your side.

Whatever side you land on.

The Veronicas - On Your Side - UKMIX Forums

Masks or no masks. Sending your kids to school or keeping them home. Staying in as much as possible or going out among the people.

Each of us has our own concerns, convictions and must follow our own conscious. I’m not judging.

Be as careful as you can be and be willing to accept the consequences of your choices.

You’ll be my friend either way. 

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

I’ll be honest.

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I could be awfully self-righteous.

I could not understand how some people (notice how I dehumanized them by lumping them together) couldn’t just act right, do right, pick themselves us by their bootstraps and get on with life.

Not anymore.

Now I am more apt to wonder, “What awful thing has happened to this person?” instead of “What is WRONG with them????” when I notice someone acting a bit out of character or not quite living up to their commitments or somehow missing the mark of societal expectations.

Take all this coronavirus craziness.

Some of us are being more cautious.

Some of us consider caution a sign of insecurity or fear or lack of faith.

None of us have enough information (really!) to make an informed decision.

ZOONO3 VIA GETTY IMAGES

Lack of testing, lack of research, lack of transparency and not enough time means we are all essentially guessing what is the most prudent and appropriate individual response to this threat. I’m choosing not to judge anyone’s choices even if they are different than my own.

I’ve felt judged many times in the past six years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

People who haven’t buried a child really don’t understand how it changes EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t stop them from offering an opinion or advice or making comments on social media that are clearly intended to correct or shame me.

Now that things are opening up on the back side of blanket stay-at-home orders I’m probably going to be judged again.

What people don’t know about me-what they can’t see and can’t know unless they ask-is I suffer from an autoimmune disease. The treatment impacts my ability to fight off infections. It lowers my white blood cell count. It makes me susceptible to things that other folks never have to worry about.

I had latent (non-contagious and asymptomatic) tuberculosis a couple years ago.

I’m not part of population that would normally be considered “at risk” and only found out about it because it’s protocol to test for TB before prescribing some of the more potent medicines used in treating rheumatoid arthritis. I still have no idea where I was exposed to it.

Eight months of antibiotics with unpleasant side effects later I was disease free.

Based on first person accounts of what it feels like to have Covid19 (not even considering the most dire outcomes) that was a cakewalk.

So I’m not standing in line to try my hand at surviving this new threat.

And I have other, very real, very painful, experiences which inform my choice to be more cautious. I know that regardless of odds, of treatment and of what a heart HOPES will happen, things don’t always go as planned or as predicted.

I know the horror death leaves in its wake. I know the toll trauma takes on a life left behind.

My family has already had to deal with more than I could have imagined and I will not purposely expose them to something else if I can help it.

So regardless of local, state or national guidelines, protocol or recommendations I will be mostly staying home.

Baby Girl Name: Prudence. Meaning: Foresight; Practical Judgment ...

It’s not lack of faith. It’s not fear. It’s prudence based on experience.

You can make a different choice and I will absolutely positively respect that.

Agreement is not a prerequisite for kindness.

Your shoes are not my shoes.

And that’s OK.

Covid 19 And Mental Health

I’ve learned to be pretty good at waiting.

For just over six years I’ve been waiting to see my son again. Waiting for this ache in my heart to be healed. Waiting for a sunrise that brings only joy and no reminder of sorrow.

So I’ve figured out some ways to fill these waiting days. I’ve developed habits and routines to make them count for something other than empty hours ticked off on a clock face.

The pandemic has thrust many other hearts into an unwelcome season of waiting.

Here are some good habits (most of which I’ve employed daily for years!) that make the waiting a little easier and healthier:

  • Get Dressed. Sure it’s fun to hang out in pajama pants when you know the only meetings you might have are online and no one can tell what you’re wearing. But getting dressed signals your brain the day has begun and creates a dividing line between night and day. Trust me, it makes a big difference!
  • Eat Well. Don’t allow yourself to graze all day on snack foods. Make or order real meals. It’s easy to overeat when grazing which will ultimately make you feel too full, bloated and uncomfortable. Fill a plate (even if it’s a paper plate!), sit at the table or a TV tray and finish your breakfast, lunch or dinner then put the food away. Daily rituals help a heart hold on and crafting them around meals is simple and satisfying.
  • Do something creative. It can be rearranging pictures on the wall, placing photos in an album (something you might have wanted to do for a long time), coloring, completing a craft project, sewing fabric masks, or dragging out a puzzle you’ve had in the closet. Anything that helps you think outside the box is wonderful.
  • Stay connected with friends and family. I know it’s not the same. FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram and whatever other social media apps may be trending right now are no substitute for face-to-face meetings and warm, in-person hugs. But they are the best we can do right now. And they are absolutely, positively better than nothing! Take advantage of all the ways you can reach out to those you love. Share funny stories or memes. Let your loved ones know how your day is going.
  • Do your hair and makeup. Well, I might not be the best person to recommend this particular practice since I don’t wear makeup unless it’s a very special occasion. BUTif you wear makeup on a regular basis, do the minimum. It’s another way of helping your brain and psyche draw a line between day and night, work and relaxation. Doing your hair might just be putting it in a ponytail or clip but get it out of your face. At least run a comb or brush through it.
  • Get some fresh air. There is NO substitute for outdoor air. Too much time cooped up indoors makes even the most sane person a little crazy. Walk, ride a bike, run, skip or hop your way around the block or in the park. If moving is too hard on your joints or your balance or your heart, then sit outside in the sun and breathe deeply. It’s a wonderful way to reset your mental attitude and get some Vitamin D.
  • Unplug devices and walk away from the screens! Too often we are stuck in echo chambers that reflect back fear and mistrust of the “other side”. Social media algorithms feed us what they think we want to see. The 24/7 news cycle thrives on half-truth headlines that encourage viewers to tune in for the “rest of the story”. It is possible to learn everything you NEED to know in about five minutes online. Leave the rest for those that enjoy drama, intrigue and worrying about every little thing.
  • Reach out. If you feel yourself falling down a black hole into the pit of despair, tell someone. It’s scary to risk rejection or judgement. But I think you will be surprised to find that most of the time you will be met with grace and compassion.

Faith Starts With Questions

In the midst of this uncertain time many people are asking questions.

That’s a good thing.

Because unlike others who may insist that faith never questions, I maintain that faith begins with questions.

Who needs a God who knows everything if they never wonder about anything?

It’s no sin, to ask, “Why”.

The Psalms are filled with questions.  

Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” from the cross.

God invites us to ask.  

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/04/17/it-is-no-sin-to-ask-why/