Parenting After Loss: Giving Surviving Siblings Permission to Live

I wrote this post about things I’m learning almost two years ago.

A couple of the things I’m learning are:

There is no limit to the pain you may have to endure this side of heaven.

Lightning can strike twice in the same place, and fear of what you know by experience trumps fear of the unknown by miles.

I’ve buried one child, I do not want to bury another.

So one of the biggest struggles I face is how to parent my surviving adult children.  I do not want their lives circumscribed by my fears.

Are we ALL changed by Dominic’s death?  Absolutely!  But they are young, at the beginning of life and making choices about direction and life partners and what they want out of the years stretching before them. 

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I pray every day they will make those choices from a place of freedom and hope instead of a place of confinement and fear. 

Can something happen to any one of them?  Of course!  But it is no more likely today than it was three years ago when I didn’t think it could happen at all.

I will not let my mind and heart borrow trouble from tomorrow.  I will choose to focus on today and encourage them to do the same.

While Dominic was here-he LIVED.  

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I want his brothers and sister to be completely free to live too.

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Trust After Loss: Admit the Pain

Child loss is Unnatural-no way around it.

Out of order death is devastating.

When my perfectly healthy, strong and gifted son was killed instantly in a motorcycle accident on April 12. 2014 my world fell apart.  My heart shattered into a million pieces.  And after three and a half years, I’ve yet to even FIND all of those pieces much less put them back together.

So what does a heart do when that happens?  Because, try as I might, I cannot stop time. 

Even THAT awful day only lasted 24 hours.

When the sun rose again, the pain was still there.  And behind that pain and mixed with it was something else-disappointment, disaffection, distrust.

Where were You, God???

God is sovereign-He rules.

God is good-He loves.

How do those two truths live together in a universe that includes child loss? How can I trust the rest of my life and my eternal future to a God who lets this happen?

It’s a process.  And it takes time.  It involves purposeful choices by me to place my heart where it can hear truth even when it doesn’t want to hear and doubts every word.

The first step toward trusting again is to ADMIT THE PAIN.

You may be thinking, “Are you crazy?”.   

“Of course I know I’m hurting-my child is no longer here!”

But that’s the easy pain to recognize and own up to.  For those of us who have swallowed the western church model of “Sunshine Christianity”*, we will have a much harder time admitting our dismay that as victors in Jesus we feel discouraged, defeated and disgusted.

And should we dare to whisper it aloud we may well be shouted down by voices afraid to hear what they themselves sometimes secretly think but never speak.  So we convince our hearts these are phantom pains like those of a lost limb and try to ignore them.

But they will not be ignored.

The Bible is full of broken people bringing their hearts and their hurts to God.

  • He doesn’t despise my pain.
  • He doesn’t turn away from my tears.
  • He doesn’t hurry me through hearbreak.

Death is awful!  We dare not make it small!

It was the penalty for sin and the price of salvation.  To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.

I must admit my pain:

  • Own it.
  • Feel it.
  • Name it.
  • Speak it.

I’m not the first nor will I be the last to wonder about where God is and what He is doing.  Nicolas Wolterstorff’s adult son was killed in a climbing accident and his little book, Lament for a Son, was one of the best I have read in grief.

It struck a chord with me both because of the similarity of our loss and his honesty in exploring the edges of pain and doubt.

He writes:

Will my eyes adjust to this darkness?  Will I find you in the dark-not in the streaks of light which remain, but in the darkness?  Has anyone ever found you there?  Did they love what they saw?  Did they see love?  And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim?  Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?

Noon has darkened.  As fast as they could say, “He’s dead”, the light dimmed.  And where are you in the darkness?  I learned to spy you in the light.  Here in this darkness, I cannot find you.  If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence.  Or is it not your absence in which I dwell, but your elusive troubling presence?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, LAMENT FOR A SON

C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the loss of his wife, Joy.  And he also is honest and raw-asking aloud the questions that hide in our hearts, admitting the fear that the God we serve may not be the God we thought we knew.  

Giants in faith-both men. 

Yet they, like us, had to bring the shattered pieces of their broken hearts to the foot of the cross and beg God to put them back together. 

Admit the pain. 

God already knows.  

god shouts in pain cs lewis

*Sunshine Christianity is the notion that once one belongs to Jesus the road is smooth (God can make a way), the path clear of obstacles (if you have enough faith), and if I simply claim the promises of Scripture I have victory over every circumstance.  It does not square with either Jesus’ own experience nor that of the 12 apostles.

Anxiety is Awful!

I’ve written before about anxiety and child loss here.  No matter the cause of death, the FACT of a child’s death seems to create the perfect conditions for a parent’s body and mind to experience anxiety, dis-ease, fear and often a sense of impending doom.

My world was rocked to its foundation the moment I heard the words, “He was killed in a motorcycle accident”.  

The worst thing I could imagine had come true.  

There was no protection from it happening again, no guarantee that THIS unbearable pain would be the ONLY unbearable pain I would have to carry.

I think my body chemistry was instantly transformed that morning to include rapid heartbeats, shallow breathing and a horrible creepy tension that climbs my spine and clenches its claws tightly at the base of my skull.

Before Dominic left us for Heaven I was not an anxious person.

No matter what happened, I generally took it in stride, looked for a solution and moved forward armed with an arsenal of choices to meet the problem head on.

Now, I can be pushed into a corner by an ordinary phone call that lasts too long.  I can feel trapped if a price fails to ring up properly and I have to wait to have it corrected by a head cashier.  I can become positively frantic when I reach in  my purse and can’t find my keys even though I know for a fact I put them there and if I look a bit harder I’ll find them.

Traffic makes my heart go pitter-patter.  The doorbell sends me flying to make sure it’s the UPS man and not another police officer to tell me heartbreaking news.

If I try to multi-task (which I rarely do) I am soon overwhelmed and have to sit down to catch my breath.

I only shop in stores where I’m familiar with the aisles and where products I need are shelved.

I check and re-check directions if I have to go to an unfamiliar address and leave with double the time needed to get there in case I get lost.  Making on-the-fly course corrections doesn’t happen.

I pull off and have to figure out where I am.

And heaven forbid the phone rings past midnight -I wake with a start and even a wrong number means I won’t sleep for the rest of the night.

This is not “worry”.  It’s not “borrowing trouble from tomorrow”.  It is not an indication that my faith is weak or I’m “caving in” to my feelings.

It’s an uncontrollable physiological response to various stimuli.

So please, please don’t judge me or other bereaved parents for making choices about where we go, when we go and how much we go-most of the time we are anticipating an anxious response and trying to beat it.  

We are doing the best we can.  

Honest.

courage doesn't always roar male liion

Unafraid

I’ve never been really big on fear.

I jumped from the high dive at three years old-that belly flop hurt but I survived and it fueled my adventurous spirit.

I rode horses other people didn’t like-was bucked off a time or two but no broken bones so that didn’t slow me down.

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My dad had an open cockpit biplane and we flew aerobatics over Colorado Springs-fanny pack parachute strapped to my butt “just in case”-upside down and round and round. We never needed to jump and landed safely every time.

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Never been afraid of speaking in public.

Never been afraid of strangers.

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.

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I forgot most of my fears and was again unafraid.

UNTIL Dominic was killed.

And all the old fears came rushing back.  I wanted to lock my surviving children in a room and slip food under the door.  I HAD to keep them safe.

Only I can’t.  It is not possible for me to keep. them. safe.

All I could possibly do is make them afraid.  I could make them afraid of choosing their hearts’ desires in an attempt to prevent more pain for mine.

I won’t do that.

I will not allow part of Dominic’s legacy to be that our family lives afraid.

NO.

I choose to release my children to make the best choices they can and to live boldly and unafraid.

 

Refusing Fear, Embracing Love

In my grief and sorrow it is tempting to dig a moat, draw up the bridge to my heart and wait out life like I am under seige.

But that would be wasting this pain and I won’t do that.

I won’t dishonor Dominic and dishonor Jesus by refusing to love.

fear is the opposite of love brene brown

Just a few days after Dominic ran ahead to heaven,  my youngest son wrote this:

“If you are surrounded by life you will be surrounded by death, if you feel love you will also feel pain. But never let the fear of death or pain rob you of the joy of LIFE and LOVE.”

Fear is a thief.

It sneaks in and can rule my heart before I even know it.

I will not bar the door to love, but I will barricade it against fear.

I refuse to let fear win.

fear does not prevent death it prevents life

My Choices Reflect My Focus

My daughter is a quote collector like her mama.  

Here’s the one she has taped to her dashboard:  

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That is challenging for me.

When the one thing happens you think will never happen, well, that opens a whole chest full of fears you thought you’d locked inside.

But when I wake up I get to choose:  will I give in or fight back?

I’m learning that while I can’t stop the thoughts that fly around in my brain I can choose which ones I invite to make a nest there.

When fear threatens to undo me, I resist.  

I refuse to react to what MAY happen.  I choose to hold onto what IS happening, right now.

Truth is, either way, I have no control over the future.

I will not lose today because of what tomorrow might bring.

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Repost: God of the Day and God of the Night

I was afraid of the dark until I was almost forty years old.

My fear was rooted in scary childhood moments and even years of adult experience could not rip it from the soil of my psyche. I never could convince my heart what my head knew to be true: there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t also there in the light.

It was fear, not darkness, that controlled me.

There is great darkness in grief.  So many unanswerable questions, so much anquish, so much pain.

Read the rest here:  God of the Day and God of the Night