A List of Ten Ways I Survive Hard Grief Days

One of the most devastating aspects of child loss is the overwhelming feeling that NOTHING makes sense anymore and that I have absolutely NO control.

Choosing helpful habits and actions gives me a way to regain dominion over a tiny corner of my world.

And that little bit of action strengthens my spirit and helps my heart hold on.

My hardest grief season begins in November and runs to the end of May.  Thanksgiving through Dominic’s birthday on (or near) Memorial Day are days full of triggers, memories and stark reminders that one of us is missing.

If I could fall asleep November first and wake up in June I’d do it.

But I can’t so I have to employ all the tricks I’ve learned in the over eight years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven to survive those particularly challenging months.

Here are ten ways I survive hard grief days

Read the rest here: Taking Care: Ten Ways to Survive Hard Grief Days

Patience Appreciated!

I wrote this a few years ago in response to post after post across social media of (mostly!) moms lamenting the fact their son or daughter would soon be moving away or off to college. 

I get it!  

When you are used to having your kid around it’s tough when he or she leaves the nest.  

But there is a vast difference in having to work a little harder to stay in contact or arrange visits and never being able to speak to your child again. 

It’s an adjustment to compare calendars to find a day your family can celebrate together but it’s heartbreaking to know that one chair will always be empty at every family gathering.  

Read the rest here:  Please Be Patient With Me

Some May Wonder: Why Am I Still Writing?

Recently I was challenged by someone close to me to examine the impact on my heart of spending so much time in community with those whose loss was fresher and more raw than my own.

They were being neither judgmental nor argumentative.

They were coming from a genuine place of concern, grace and love.

So I took the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate whether or not I need to continue writing in this space, spend time reading and responding to posts in bereaved parents’ groups and ruminating on how grief has changed over time (now seven plus years!).

It was an excellent exercise.

Read the rest here: Challenge Accepted: Why Am I Still Here?

Broken, Fragile Vessel in the Hands of a Mighty, Faithful Lord

Last year I was asked by a precious fellow bereaved mama to write a guest post for a new and exciting ministry her family is launching in honor of their son, Rhett.

It was an interesting and challenging assignment to create a single entry that might give enough background to make my voice an authentic source of hope based on shared experience.

I spent over a week working it out but settled on what you have below: The essence of my story is I am a broken, fragile vessel whom God chooses to use to share His light, life and hope in a world full of searching hearts.

Child loss is MY cross. Yours may be something else.

But our great and faithful Lord can and will use us, if we let Him.

“But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us. We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair. We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well. “

~2 Corinthians 4:7-10 VOICE

As a young mother of four stairstep children I copied out these verses and taped them to my bathroom mirror for encouragement.

Read the rest here: Fragile Vessel, Mighty God

Have You Tried Journaling Your Grief?

Journaling has been and continues to be a very important part of my grief journey.

Putting thoughts on paper gets them out of my head.

Writing them down helps me understand them.

i-write-because-i-dont-know

Reading them back is an excellent reflective exercise.

It’s a way to track progress, recognize repeating patterns and see where I need to do more grief work.

Read the rest here: Grief Journaling Prompts

I Want To Live Unafraid

I had never been afraid of speaking in public.

I had never been afraid of strangers.

I had never been afraid of heights.

UNTIL.

Until I had children and then I was afraid of nearly EVERYTHING for them.

I didn’t want any harm to befall these tiny humans carrying my heart outside my body.  I wanted to protect them, to cushion them, to wrap them in a bubble so that nothing bad ever happened to them.

As they grew, I learned to let go- a little at a time.  I learned you can’t prevent the scrapes and bruises and heartaches and disappointments of life.  And I learned that a little “harm” made them stronger.

I forgot most of my fears and was again unafraid.

UNTIL Dominic was killed.

Read the rest here: Unafraid

How Grief Continues To Shape My Life Eight Years Later

It would be lovely if life were neatly divided into seasons or sections.

But like so many things, there are no clean lines between now and what used to be.

Who I am today is shaped by who I was the day before.

I think that’s one of the things I enjoy most about fiction-authors are free to wander back and forth among character’s thoughts, past experiences and present reality.

It makes for a more complete story.

Each year about this time (in the waning days of my Season of Sorrow) I usually stop and take stock of how far I’ve come and how grief continues to shape my life.

There are many, many ways I’ve healed and am healing:

  • I no longer cry every day.
  • I feel true joy!
  • The pain of losing Dominic doesn’t dominate me although it plays like Background Music-not always demanding my attention.
  • I celebrate my family and my family’s milestones with genuine excitement and once again enjoy planning get togethers, birthdays and (most!) holidays.
  • I function at a higher level and am able to rejoin some groups and participate in some activities I just couldn’t manage in the early years.
  • I’ve made peace with the questions that won’t be answered this side of eternity.
  • I’ve incorporated traumatic loss into my understanding of Who God is and how He may work in world while accepting I don’t always like it.
  • I attend baby showers, weddings and even funerals without bringing all my lost dreams or personal sadness to the event.
  • I laugh-a lot. It feels good again to belly laugh at family memories or new jokes.
  • I can extend hospitality once more. That was a core component of my pre-loss life and personality and I missed it.

But there are many ways in which grief and loss continues to inform how I walk in the world:

I absolutely, positively cannot multitask! I have to break daily chores into single actions so I can focus and accomplish one thing at a time. I used to be able to cook, talk on the phone, bend over and motion to a child needing help with school all at once. Not anymore! Just recently I lost an important piece of mail most likely because I was looking at it while chatting to a family member. I put it down and cannot for the life of me remember where it is.

I become anxious when around too many people-especially if they are people I don’t know or the venue is one with which I’m unfamiliar. This even happens in the car driving in new places. I was never an anxious person before. In fact, I was typically the voice of calm in a group of friends panicking over some small detail that went awry. I try not to share my anxiety, but it’s there and it takes a huge amount of energy to corral it and keep it from escaping into wild demonstrations like running from a room. (I do a lot of counting/visualizing/breathing and self-soothing.)

I don’t like noise. To be fair, I never really did but now it’s exacerbated. Shopping can be a real trial when stores insist on blasting music in hopes it makes patrons feel like spending more money. I, for one, just want to get what’s on my list and get the heck out of Dodge! I love children but I can’t tolerate the incessant chatter little ones bring to a Sunday School classroom or a Vacation Bible School craft table. I used to be the first one to volunteer for those posts but I just. can’t. do. it. anymore.

I crave predictability. I know, I know, of all people I should understand control is an illusion. I do. But the tiny details of life-like planning meals, choosing clothes, cleaning routines and evening quiet times- are things I want to be able to count on. Routine is my friend. It helps my mind (such as it is) operate on reliable pathways. I’ve never been a big fan of random, but now it’s something I try to avoid at all costs.

I need solitude. I’m still processing some things. I imagine I’ll be doing that the rest of my life as different experiences from NOW interact with my loss. I cannot do that in the presence of others. I need to think, reflect, write, read and walk it out. That means I have to devote time and space to being alone. If circumstances prevent me from quiet solitude for too long my blood pressure climbs, my patience disappears and little things grow large.

I don’t sweat the small stuff (usually-see above!). If time, effort or money can remedy it then it’s just. not. a. problem. I’ve learned the hard way that life and love are the most important things in life. Everything else might be nice but it’s not essential. I’m not minimizing the stress and strain of broken pipes, wrecked cars or lost jobs. It’s just that eventually those are situations that can be fixed. And lest you think I’ve not experienced any of those, I have. My first thought whenever anything happens I once perceived as “the worst thing that could happen” is, “It’s absolutely, positively NOT the worst thing that can happen”.

I need to observe a careful rhythm of commitment and freedom on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I always kept my big calendars each year and tossed them into a box of “if I ever need to know these things”. When I look back on how busy we were as a young family I’m astounded at the pace we kept, the places we went, the hours I was frantically working to fulfill all our obligations along with the things we just wanted to do. I’m sure some of this is a function of age-I’m no spring chicken any more-but I know in my bones it’s also a function of the ongoing toll grief takes on my body, mind and soul. I can only manage a few days of busyness in a row until I need a complete shut-down for at least twenty-four hours or more. I refuse to schedule any but the most difficult to get appointments in a week where I’ve already inked in other commitments.

Sleep, regular exercise and good food are necessary for me to face life with a good attitude. This is probably true of most folks but just a day or two of fast food, no outdoor walks or interrupted nights and I’m toast. I’m not a whole foods, organic everything kind of gal but I try to eat a variety of fresh and less-processed meals. When I’m home I have an almost two mile path through woods and up gentle inclines that builds muscle, exercises my lungs and body and gives me ample time to drink in the beauty of birds, wildflowers and leafy trees. If you’ve ever been to my home you know that the rest of the crowd can stay up as long as they want to but I’m headed upstairs between eight and nine. Of course I get up before the sun, so my total hours are roughly the same but there’s something about that pre-midnight sleep that restores me like no other.

I could probably list dozens more, less obvious, ways grief still shapes the me of today. But it no longer binds me like it did in the early days. I’m better able to work around the difficult bits and still make a meaningful life with the people I love.

But it’s Ok to not be OK some days.

Those days are fewer and farther between.

I’m very thankful for that.

My Ninth Mother’s Day as a Bereaved Mother

When it first happened all I could think about was getting through a minute, then a day and then all the decisions and days leading up to a funeral or memorial service.  

There’s no road map.  

Even when others come alongside (and many, many did!) there’s just no easy way to navigate that part of the journey.

And then I realized that in addition to all the “regular” days that absolutely, positively  break your heart, I had to forge a path through “special” days.

It was overwhelming!

Mother’s Day was especially challenging that first year.  Our loss was fresh and we’d had to acknowledge and celebrate two graduations and a wedding was about a month away.  How in the world could I honor my living children and also safeguard my broken heart?

We muddled through by having Mother’s Day at my daughter’s apartment co-hosted by some of her sweetest and most compassionate friends.  Not a lot of fanfare, but good food, good company and a quiet acknowledgment of Dom’s absence but also my living children’s presence.

It was a gift. 

This is my ninth Mother’s Day.  Every year is different.  Every year presents new challenges and every year things change.  

Since discovering there is an International Bereaved Mother’s Day my heart has taken advantage of having a day to think about and honor Dominic and then another day to think about and honor my living children.

That helps.  

I wrote this post six years ago but can’t really improve on it so I’ll share it again.  I pray that each heart who finds Mother’s Day hard will lean in and take hold of the hem of His garment. 

It’s really the only way.  

Read the rest here:  Mother’s Day as a Bereaved Mother

Holidays Can Be Hard-What To Do About Mother’s Day

This will be the ninth Mother’s Day since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Every year has been different because families continue to grow and change and the world turns and life marches on.

Every year presents unique challenges and particular paths that must be navigated anew. It’s always an emotional roller coaster.

The Captain, March 2019

Three years ago our family welcomed a first grandchild. His frightening entrance into the world made his life all the more precious and Mother’s Day gave us a chance to celebrate him, his mama and the fact that his story has a happy ending.

The Captain, April 2020.

In March we welcomed his brother-also a bit early but not nearly as perilous! Once again we give thanks that things have turned out well.

Coming home!! Big brother is so excited.

This year I’ll be a motherless child when the sun rises tomorrow. For the third time in my life, I won’t be able to see or telephone my own mother. Another light and life lost from sight.

Dominic and Mama in Heaven together.

Julian, Dominic, Mama, James Michael & Fiona

Every year my living children work hard to celebrate me even when they are unable to make it home.

I always feel loved.

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So what’s a mama to do when her heart is torn between the very great and beautiful blessings of her living children and grandchildren and the very great and devastating sorrow of missing her child in Heaven?

Since discovering there is an International Bereaved Mother’s Day my heart has taken advantage of having a day to think about and honor Dominic and then another day to think about and honor my living children.

I also rise early enough on Mother’s Day to have time alone with my thoughts and feelings.

I walk my heart through the upcoming hours and “pre-grieve” moments where I’ll be looking for Dom among the faces at the table or around the room. I remember the gift of his life and place it in context of the gift of each of my children.

I thank God for my family.

Thanksgiving years ago, when we were all younger and all here on earth. One of my favorites. 

And then I get up, get dressed and open my heart to the love I have in front of me.

I never, ever want my living children to think that their brother’s ABSENCE is more important or more precious to me than their PRESENCE.

My mama’s heart has room for all of them as it always has.

And as it always will.

Pickles, Jelly Jars and Tears

I first shared this five years ago so it may shock some folks that while I have finally tossed most of the things in my fridge that once belonged to Dominic, I’ve got a giant bottle of hot sauce I’m still using.

Every time I add spicy flavor to chili I think of him.

I’m not looking forward to the day it runs out because it will be one more link dissolved between the living son I knew in the flesh and the memories I have to settle for now.

My parents live in another state so I call each morning just to check in and say hello.

We usually chat about what we have planned for the day, what we did the day before and share any important family updates.

Yesterday my dad mentioned that he had been to the grocery store, came home and when putting away the food he bought decided to clean out his refrigerator.  He joked that he found some things from years ago tucked in the back where they’d been forgotten.

I laughed and said, “Yeah-I did that sometime last summer.”

And then my heart froze as I remembered another fridge I cleaned out three years ago.

I went on to say, “I threw out all the old stuff except what I took out of Dom’s fridge when we cleaned his apartment.”

And then the tears broke loose.

Read the rest here: Jelly Jars, Pickles and Tears

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