This is still the question that comes up most often in bereaved parent groups: ‘How do I DO this?’
No one is prepared for the devastation of child loss. There are no manuals issued as you walk away from your son or daughter’s earthly shell.
And what makes it worse is that because child loss is every parent’s worst nightmare, no one wants to talk about what happens after everyone else goes back to their lives and families are left alone with grief, isolation, devastation and desperate pain.
After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet.
Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.
Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.
And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream:
There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.
In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”
It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group. After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.
But, oh, when I did! What relief! What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!
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.
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!).
f you have lived a blessed life where the greatest challenge to your faith has been disappointment and not destruction then I am so, so happy for you. Really.
Some of us have dragged our broken hearts through the church doors out of habit with little hope we might find the genuine comfort we need to survive inside.
Because experience taught us that while it is perfectly acceptable to raise a hand and ask for prayer one or two weeks in a row, it better not become a predictable pattern. Patience with unsolvable and messy ongoing situations runs thin as leaders turn the discussion toward “victory in Jesus”.
But that isn’t what Christ came for-not that we don’t have ultimate and even some temporal victory through Him.
He came for the broken and breathless. He came in the flesh because our flesh is weak and life is hard and bad things happen.
We’ve got to do a better job welcoming and ministering to hurting hearts.
We have to.
I am a shepherd. My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.
And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.
But most of us are far removed from the daily reminder of pastoral life that was commonly accessible to the authors and readers of the Bible thousands of years ago. So it’s no surprise that we tend to forget the connection between a shepherd’s life and a pastor’s calling.