Bereaved Parents Month Post: Have I Lost My Mind?

Here I am four years into this journey and I still have days when I think I have utterly lost my mind.  

Not because of internal cues but because of external pressure by family and friends to conform to some idea THEY have of what grief after child loss should look like.

I have to remind myself that they have NO IDEA what this is like and that if I am managing to move along-even at a snail’s pace-I’m just fine.

I wrote this a couple years ago in response to a private message sent to me by a friend:

“It was just over a year after Dominic’s accident and a friend forwarded an article about odd behaviors of those who were “stuck’ in grief.  Along with the forward was a little tag, “Reminds me of you.”

It hurt my feelings.

And it was inappropriate.”

Read the rest here:  I am NOT Crazy!

Death is The Enemy, Jesus Our Victory

We live in a culture where we see death often but experience it rarely.  

Movies, video games, cartoons, news stories all flash images of death across the screen so frequently that most of us either ignore them or they register only as numbers, not as human beings.

Of course many of the images are manufactured-the actors don’t REALLY die, the characters in video games are not real-but how often do we wait for a news report to tell us how many AMERICANS died in a plane crash or terror attack?

As if only those affiliated in some way with our own heritage “count”.

But when death comes knocking at your own door, walks in and settles down, that changes everything.  

I can no longer sit and consume death like a meal, meant to feed my appetite for entertainment.

And every single time I hear a report listing casualties I think of the families ripped apart by the absence of a life they loved.

Death is the enemy.  

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve he said, “You shall not surely die.”  

He was wrong.

A single sin ushered in all kinds of sorrow and woe and the ultimate sadness was death.  It meant separation from breath and life, separation from those we love and, without the atoning blood of Christ, separation from God in eternity.  

My ninety-nine-year-old aunt died this week.  She lived a long, useful and fairly healthy life (until the last couple of years).

You’d think that in light of my own son dying at only twenty-three I’d be more OK with her leaving this life and moving to Heaven.  

But I’m not.  

Somehow her death-more than all the other souls I’ve known and loved that have left us since Dom ran ahead-has knocked me to my knees.

mel and mattie lou sahara

Maybe it was how hard and how long she fought against our common enemy.  

Maybe it was just the time of year.  

I don’t know.  

But she reminded me again that death is always sad.

And that Jesus is the only One Who can save us from death’s power.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

Nothing New Between Us

Why are the photographs of him as a little boy so incredibly hard to look at? Something is over. Now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memories, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. So it is with all the memories of him. They all lead into blackness. All I can do is remember him, I cannot experience him. Nothing new can happen between us.

~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

 

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

Death is never welcome.  

It is always a reminder that I live in a broken world where sickness and time, accidents and sinful choices press the life out of bodies and I am left behind to mourn.

But when people die at a ripe old age, I look back fondly on what they’ve done, where they’ve been, the legacy of work and love and family they leave behind.

No one lives forever.

In the back of my mind I can make room for that fact, even though I don’t like to bring it out and consider it very often.  Those that are much older than me will (all things being equal) leave this world before us.

I joined them. 

There is part of their lives I know nothing about.  And there will be part of mine they will not share.

But my child?

I have known my child since before he entered the light of this world!  I felt him in my womb.  I experienced who he was before anyone else met him.

I never, ever expected for my life to outlast his!

I always thought there would be new experiences between us, new memories to tuck away, new adventures to look forward to.  

Out of order death is unexpected, unnatural, unbelievable.  

“Nothing new between us.”  

Breaks my heart every time. 

handprint on my heart

 

 

Why I Say, “My Son Died.”

Died.  

It is a harsh word.

I understand completely that some parents don’t want to use it to describe their child and I respect that.

I have chosen to use it often (not always-sometimes I say “left” or “ran ahead to heaven”) because what happened IS harsh. I don’t want to soften it because there was nothing soft about it for me or my family.

It is heartbreaking, lonely, heavy, hard and utterly devastating. 

grief bubble

As a believer in the promises of Scripture, I use it because I want to paint a stark contrast between hopelessness without Christ and the hope I have because of the blood of Jesus applied to my heart and the heart of my son.

Without that assurance, the hopelessness would continue for eternity.

romans 10_9

But because of Jesus, while this reality is harsh, hard and heartbreaking, I have an eternity of rest, renewal and redemption to look forward to.

not ashamed

I think each of us finds our own path through this Valley and should say or use whatever word is best for our own heart.

This is simply one choice among many.  

I’m so sorry that we need ANY words to describe our child’s physical absence in this earthly journey. 

no evil can conquer grace forever

Child Loss is Not a Single Event

Child loss is not a single event. 

Of course the moment when the last breath leaves a body is noted and duly recorded because the law requires such.  I can pull out Dominic’s death certificate (what an ugly thing to have to say about my child!) and it reads:  Time of Death:  1:10 a.m. April 12, 2014.  

But I didn’t know about it until 4: 15 that morning when the deputy rang the bell.  

So for me, his death came then.  

For family members away from home it happened when I called them.

Others found out later that day or the next.

Yet hearing the words and swallowing them down deep where my heart could comprehend them were two different things.  I think it wasn’t until I saw his body that it truly dawned on me he was not coming back.  This was not a dream or a mistake or happening to someone else.  It was very, very real.

That was just the beginning.  

I continue to experience loss every time there is a moment when Dominic SHOULD be here but he isn’t.  Every time one of his peers gets married, has a child, makes a career move, celebrates a promotion-I think, “Dominic would be doing this if he were still here.”

When our family gathers for photos and the gap where he should be standing is closed in by another body, squeezing his presence from the record of our lives, my heart sinks.  I smile-that’s what you are supposed to do for pictures-but my mind is working double-time to keep the tears in check.

My living children touch base with me nearly every day-a habit they had before Dom left us but one reinforced by the knowledge that no one wants to regret the phone call or text they didn’t make.  But just like the photographs, his absence is highlighted by their intentional presence. 

When extended family ask for updates on my kids, I have to mindfully skip Dominic and land on Julian.  They don’t notice the tiny pause but my heart marks the place and mourns the lack of news for my third born.

I know for other people Dominic’s death was a date on the calendar.

This realization was very painful at first because my wound is so deep and my sorrow so great.  I’ve made peace with that now.  I understand why folks can move on and forget.  The loss happened-past tense-and their lives are full of new people, new activities, new connections and commitments.  That’s how it should be.

But for me, the loss is an everyday event.  It continues to happen.  It will continue to happen.  

I’m not “dwelling” on my son’s death anymore than I am “dwelling” on my living children’s lives.

They are my children.  

Loved and remembered-every one.

ALWAYS.

mother and child painting

 

 

 

 

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

Holy Week Reflections: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

I trusted Jesus at an early age and I have lived my life beneath the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God.

But I never-not really-grasped the horror of the crucifixion until I watched as my own son’s body was lowered in the ground.

Death. is. awful.

Read the rest here:  Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday