Child Loss: Finding Courage to Face the Future

I think it was somewhere around two months from Dominic’s departure when my heart realized life was moving forward whether I granted permission or not.  

Not only folks on the fringes and the “bigger world out there” but close by-in my own family, my own circle of intimate friends-people were making plans, having birthdays, going places and doing things.  

I wanted to scream.  

Could the world not take more notice that it was absolutely NOT business as usual?  Was I the only one whose heart was so shattered that the thought of another sunrise was painful?  How could I walk into a future that didn’t include Dominic?

By the grace of God, I did it.  

No one can keep the world from turning, the sun from rising, time from ticking by.  

But it took a great deal of strength and courage.  

takes strengtht to let life pull you forward through grief

First it was a “grin and bear it” kind of courage.  I strapped on my armor and tucked a hankie in my pocket.  I could show up and smile (a bit), talk (awhile) and muddle through.

Sometimes it didn’t go so well.  I had to apologize and leave early.  And I was always exhausted.  

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Then it was an “I’m going to be present for my family” kind of courage.  The last thing I wanted to do was shortchange my earthbound children.  I worked to get a better handle on my thoughts and emotions.  I learned how to pre-grieve major events and milestones.  I found I could bring Dom with me by wearing a meaningful piece of jewelry or tucking a keepsake away where I could touch it if I needed to.

I was able to laugh (most of the time), make small talk and write dates on the calendar again.  

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Now the courage that helps me hold on as I’m pulled forward into the future is informed by the fact that every passing day is one day closer to the reunion my heart longs for.  What first seemed impossible is now habitual.  Sorrow and joy can coexist.  I don’t have to be empty of one to feel the other.  The future is not my enemy-it’s where I can and will love ALL my children, husband, family and friends well until the day we are in eternity together forever.

love is courage

My love for Dominic is Background Music to everything I do.  But it doesn’t always demand my full attention.  Sorrow is no longer all I feel and Dominic’s absence no longer all I see.  

 

handprint on my heart

Sunrise is still hard to face some days.  

My heart will always long for the time things were as they should be instead of how they are.  

But I’m thankful for the courage to step into the future even when I’m afraid.  

 

sometimes-fear-does-not-subside-and-you-must-choose-to-do-it-afraid

Anxiety After Child Loss Is Real

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I would not have described myself as “anxious”.

Of course I had my moments, but anxiety ,panic or worry was not really something I experienced on a regular basis.  

That’s changed.  

Now I sometimes have to close my eyes when a family member is driving in traffic.   I clench my fists when in a crowd.  I can’t concentrate if too many people are talking at once and I cannot navigate unfamiliar roads while the radio is blaring.

Dominic’s sudden death destroyed my sense of safety and control. 

If my son could be healthy and alive one moment and dead the next, anything could happen.  

It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not, the anxiety I experience is very real and often debilitating.

What makes it worse is when friends and family minimize my feelings, mock my fear or dismiss it as foolish and stupid.

What helps is when friends and family choose to acknowledge my feelings and commit to compassionate companionship while I work through them.

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Grief: Why Hiding Isn’t a Long Term Solution

We’ve all done it-chosen to swallow words instead of share them.  

Or we’ve chosen to fake a smile instead of giving another person an honest peek into our hearts.  

Or we’ve pretended, pretended, pretended in the hopes folks sniffing around will go away.  

But it’s not a long term solution to the pain we carry, the scars we bear or the stories that need telling.

Hiding often seems a good idea at the time.  Conflict avoided.  Inconvenient conversations postponed.  Hard issues ignored.  Respite from harsh words, hard feelings and hopeless discussions obtained.

I’ve hidden for a fair share of my life.  

As a child it seemed that the best way to hover just under the parental radar was to go along to get along.  Don’t hold too many preferences too tightly.  Say “yes” even when your heart says “no”.  Let the loud ones prevail.  Stay quiet, stay small and stay out of trouble.

As a young married to a significantly older husband, it served me well.  Don’t rock the boat.  Silent assent keeps things smoother.  Say “yes” even when your heart says “no”.  It’s really not worth the hassle to do otherwise.  Stay quiet, stay small and stay out of trouble.

In a multitude of leadership positions within the church community, it served me well.  Don’t overstep-remember you aren’t a salaried employee.  Check your spirit and make sure your own heart is right.  Let it go and get over it.  Say “yes” even when your heart says “no”.  Stay quiet, stay small and stay out of trouble.

The problem with hiding from feelings and hiding from hard things and hiding from messy relationships is that I can’t hide forever.  Eventually someone or something will force those things to the top.  And if I haven’t been dealing with them all along, they gain strength and intensity in the waiting.

I don’t hide anymore.  

Dominic’s death unleashed a thousand unspoken words, a thousand unexpressed feelings. 

Suddenly I had a lot to say.  

And it didn’t all have a direct connection to Dominic’s leaving but it was his leaving that made them impossible to hide anymore.  Once the dam broke in my heart it ALL flooded out.

Or trickled. 

Or dripped.  

Decades of uncomfortable conversations I had avoided became unavoidable.  Years of relationship patterns that served no one were examined and remade.  I’m still finding bits that need attention, things I really need to speak aloud.  I will sometimes try to hide.  It doesn’t last long though.

What I’m learning from refusing to hide is that it’s so much healthier!  It’s so much better to speak my truth (always, hopefully!) in love.

When I silence my heart, I only postpone and prolong and pile up hurt.  

It doesn’t go away.  

It burrows in and makes a home, pushing out everything else.  

It’s no solution.  

Our hearts and minds are resistant to change and if you, like me, are one who hid to avoid conflict, who swallowed words and wounds and worry, it will be hard.

But try. 

Try to find ways (even if it’s writing letters to some folks) to express your true feelings.  Make sure you are speaking lovingly as well as truthfully.  Get a friend to read your note or hear you out and give you feedback.  

Then offer the important people in your life your heart-your true heart-instead of hiding. 

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Repost: [Mis]Perception

I was (and am) relying on my senses to tell me where I am in this process of embracing the life I didn’t choose.  Yet they are easily overwhelmed by my daily experience-crying one day, laughing the next, undone by memories again, blessed by a friend’s text or phone call-filled to the brim with input.

I have a hard time sorting it out and looking objectively at what the data suggests.

When I can take a step back, I see that my heart has healed in some measure.  I have enfolded the truth that Dominic is not here into who I am and what my life will look like until I join him in heaven.

Read the rest here:  [Mis] Perception

I Know Why My Story Scares You

At first all I could feel was pain.

Pain of abandonment, of being misunderstood, of being pushed to the outside edges of groups that used to welcome me with open arms.

But as time passed, I began to understand.

My story scares you.  You are utterly afraid that if child loss can happen to ME, it can happen to YOU.

You’re right.

It CAN happen to you.

And no one wants to be reminded that the one thing every parent fears is not nearly as impossible nor as predictable as we would hope it is.

From the minute we take that baby home from the hospital, safely tucked in the approved and properly installed car seat, we assume we can control the future.  We think that if we eat right, get regular check ups, cover outlets and sharp corners, remove choking hazards and stuff that little mouth full of organic and healthful treats, it’s all good.

Except no one can account for random.  No one can see undetected and unsuspected genetic defects.  No one can predict or protect against every way a child might leave this life before his or her parents.

But we absolutely, positively do not want to think about that.

I don’t blame you.

I didn’t either.

So I understand why you distance yourself from me.  I get why even my presence in a room is sometimes uncomfortable.  I am not upset that you don’t add my name to the invitation list when the occasion is happy and you are afraid I might cast a shadow over the celebration.

I’m a walking advertisement for your worst nightmare.

You can afford to ignore it-and me.

I don’t have that luxury.

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Fear Of What You Know

Last week was a roller coaster.

My first grandchild-a boy-was born prematurely on Saturday after several days of heart stopping, breath robbing drama as his mama went back and forth to the hospital three times in as many days.

My son, his father, is deployed overseas and paddling as fast as he can to get home.

james and lillie

I am twelve hours away and leaving early this morning to go down and do whatever I can to help.  My daughter-in-law’s mother is there and I’m not offended to believe she will be better suited to help her daughter than I am.

But I’ll stay for a bit just to be an extra pair of hands.

I’m sure anyone who gets the news that mama and baby are in trouble is frightened.  It doesn’t take much for a heart to fear the worst.

But for someone who knows exactly what the worst feels like, there’s a whole other level to this terror.

Fear of what you don’t know can’t hold a candle to fear of what you know by experience.

I spent Saturday in anxious prayer, begging God for grace and mercy.  I had no idea how much it took out of me until after I heard baby and mama were doing well and the sun went down.  Exhaustion swept over me like a heavy blanket and it was all I could do to make it upstairs and crawl in bed.

I am beyond thankful that this story has a hopeful ending.  The little tyke only weighs two pounds but appears to be a fighter.  

It will be a long, hard climb for him to mature enough to leave the hospital.  There will be challenges along the way.

But his mama is on the road to recovery and his daddy is on the road (flight!) home.

I’ll spend some of the time driving down finishing the baby blanket I was making before he made his early appearance.

Every stitch is a prayer.  

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  

But I’m thankful today is a good day.  

I’m a grandma! ❤

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Weak Knees, Strong Savior

When I was a little girl, I used to wrap my hand around my daddy’s forefinger when we walked together.  His long legs meant that mine had to work double time to keep up. 

But no matter where his legs took us, I knew I was safe-because he was with me, he wouldn’t leave me and he would take care of me.  

When I was afraid, I could just squeeze his hand a little tighter and courage flooded my soul.  

I’m very thankful for the example and blessing of a faithful, loving earthly father because it makes it so much easier for me to trust my Heavenly Father.  

There are many things that terrify me in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Left to myself, I’d turn and run, hide or just lie down and give up.  

But I’m not alone.  

My Shepherd walks alongside me.  His Presence gives me courage and strength to keep going.  

When I am afraid, I cling tighter to His promises, lean harder on His grace and hold on for dear life to His love.  

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

In the hour of crisis, I may be weak in the knees, but I must step forward. I may bow in my private Gethsemane, sweat blood, and cry for deliverance, but then I rise to take up the cross and move toward yonder marked-out hill of suffering. The fight of faith does not allow me to flee in terror. … I dare not and will not deny the sustaining power of the living God.

When Paul wrote, ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13), he was not boasting of his cleverness or aptitude in mastering circumstances. He was expressing deep confidence that in whatever condition — sickness or health, abundance or poverty, life or death — Christ would enable him to cope, even triumph. He experienced and preached what he truly believed: ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).   

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration