There’s A Moment When The Light Makes It Through Again

This past week has been both hard and wonderful.

Some things happened that mean the next few months are going to be extra painful, extra stressful and extra challenging.

But I had a grace-filled, heartwarming visit with another bereaved mama who came all the way from Maine just to hang out with me. And that was so, so good.

As she and I shared over coffee and tea, shopping and meals, lounging and walking we found so many ways in which our journeys have been similar even though the details are really very different.

One is this: There was a distinct moment along the way when each of us began to see light and color again in the midst of our darkness and pain and it was a turning point.

When I was forced unwillingly on this long, hard journey, everything was dark. Nothing sparked joy. The whole world became a grainy black and white image on an ancient TV and it was fuzzy, flat and utterly uninteresting.

What’s worse, my heart could only REALLY feel two things-pain and love-and they were so inextricably intertwined I was no longer sure which was which.

I couldn’t run fast enough or far enough to escape the darkness or the pain.

I had to face all the awful of child loss, embrace it, feel it, work through it, talk about it in safe spaces with safe people and sit quietly for hours with my thoughts and uncomfortable emotions. I had to let time do the work that only time can do.

There are no shortcuts on this journey.

And then there was a moment when I saw something beautiful and felt something wonderful and I didn’t have to TELL my heart it was beautiful and wonderful.

I just KNEW and I could FEEL it.

At first, these moments didn’t last long and were isolated. But eventually the moments came faster, lasted longer and were closer together. I learned to embrace them, hold onto them, build upon them and look for them.

Now, the moments of light, life and color make up most of my days.

I have not forgotten Dominic. My heart aches to see him again, hold him again, share life with him again. But I’ve learned to hold that yearning for the life I used to have and gratitude for the life I live now in the same heart. I’ve found that allowing joy to fill my soul doesn’t push him away or to the side as if he doesn’t matter.

So if you think there is no way you can survive this awful, awful journey, keep going.

If you are still in the dark days and fearful light will never penetrate the depth of your pain and despair, hold on.

If your world has gone colorless, don’t give up.

Look for your moment, it’s coming.

And when it does, grab it.

There’s more where that came from.

Holidays are Coming, Ready or Not!

We’ve reached the peak of Hallowthankmas in the stores.

I‘ve never liked smashing one holiday on top of another which seems, in my mind, to rob each of their respective unique characteristics.

I’m also particularly frustrated that Halloween-a “holiday” mocking death and focused on fear (for many)-occupies way more space in mass retailers’ aisles than Thanksgiving.

But I can no more hold back the onslaught of merchandising than I can the days marching resolutely toward end of year holidays even if I choose not to join the commercial bandwagon.

So here we are.

There are forty-eight days until Thanksgiving and seventy-five days until Christmas.

Only a short time left to figure out how to honor the missing and love the living through some of the most difficult days of the year for bereaved hearts.

I’ve written many posts about what helps, what hurts, how and when to have hard conversations with extended family members about making space for brokenness at the table and in our celebrations.

I’ll be reposting those over the next couple of weeks since I firmly believe it takes forethought and planning if we want Thanksgiving and Christmas to look more like a Hallmark movie and less like a disaster film.

In the meantime I want to share some questions that are helping me sift through my own expectations, hopes and preferences for what our holidays might look like this year:

  • What is TRULY important to you, your family and/or close friends with whom you celebrate?
  • Do you love to make an elaborate meal, bake tons of cookies, pull out all the old family recipes that call for less-than-healthy ingredients? Is decorating your thing? Does it just not feel like Christmas if you miss driving around looking at lights?
  • Are you fresh on this journey and need a way to skip traditions all together? Maybe you want to spend the holidays away from home or at home with a single candle lit in honor of your child.
  • Do you have to consider younger children (either surviving siblings or grandchildren) that might pressure you to keep things “normal” for their sake?
  • Have you asked your surviving children what’s important to THEM? Don’t assume their silence equals assent.

The first year after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, lots of things had changed in addition to his absence. One son got married and moved out of state, my mother’s health was in decline, my husband was working out of town and my house felt so, so empty.

We chose to put up a very small tree with limited ornaments consisting of family photos and hearts. We gave gifts but asked that others not give us any. We joined extended family for a meal but not for opening presents.

That’s what was right for US for that year.

Each year since has been slightly different.

I have to ask those questions of myself and of my family over and over, recalibrate, shift our focus or change our choices depending on how life has reshaped our circumstances in the past twelve months.

If this is the first holiday season since your child left you might want to ignore it altogether. That’s OK. But at the least you may have to tell friends and family that’s your plan.

So grab some paper and find a quiet spot to think.

Then write without editing your thoughts, feelings or ideas.

Save the page so you can reflect on it and make the decisions right for YOUR family THIS year.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting ideas from other bereaved parents that might help you navigate this particularly challenging part of the journey.

It may seem impossible.

But you’ve faced the impossible before.

World Suicide Prevention Day

I’m always torn between sharing about suicide awareness and just offering a listening ear to survivors of suicide.

On the one hand, I don’t want a single person who may be shouting warning signals to end up completing suicide because no one listened.

On the other, I want to protect bereaved parents and siblings from any additional guilt they may feel because they “missed” such signals.

But since suicide is at epidemic proportions in our country-especially among young people and veterans-I’m going to try to navigate the middle ground.

To anyone whose loved one left this life by suicide let me say this: You are not responsible! Even if in hindsight you feel like you missed cues or didn’t notice tell-tale signs, in the end it was their own action that led to death.

I do not believe suicide is selfish.

I believe suicide results from pain so unbearable a heart simply thinks there is no other way to end it. It’s not a conscious act as such, it’s a reflexive response to intense pain.

I also know that mental illness-often untreated because it is undiagnosed-wrecks havoc with the logical, reasoning part of a brain.

To those who may be contemplating suicide (something I know many, many bereaved parents think about) let me say this: If you are considering it, reach out.

You are a unique creation and cannot be replaced.

There are resources available and people not only willing, but LONGING, to help you hold onto hope.

As you fall deeper and deeper into the pit of despair, it’s easy to lose sight of the truth that darkness is not all that exists. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s nearly impossible of your own volition to will yourself out of the funk.

This is where suicide prevention has a role to play.

If someone seems “off”, don’t ignore it, dismiss it or excuse yourself from asking hard questions (even at the risk of being rebuffed or worse).

Often a single person extending a hand and listening ear at just the right moment grants space for a hurting heart to reconsider suicide as the only way out of pain. If they won’t respond in spite of your best efforts, enlist allies.

And walk gently among your fellow humans!

You may never know when your smile, opened door, random encouraging word or knowing glance is the difference between a stranger going home to end it all and going home and making a phone call to get help.

Suicide is tragic.

Be alert.

Be a friend.

Compassion is a choice.

Be the one who cares, calls and comforts.

Grief: Why I Still Need Grace From Friends and Family

There have been a number of television shows lately centered around families and personal tragedy that simultaneously draws them closer and tears them apart.  

Some of the writers and actors are doing a good job showing what it looks like to live through a nightmare. 

Some, not so much.  

But none of them will take it out to years and decades-the audience would lose interest, decide that story line needed refreshing or simply needed to GO. 

For those living with child loss, it’s no story line.  We don’t get to walk away, change the channel, find some new and more interesting or more comfortable screen to watch.  

It’s our life.

And we need folks who will hang in and hang on while we live it out.  ❤

You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.

You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall.  He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.

He never made it home.

So when I come out of the room red-eyed, teary and quiet, please don’t look at me like I’m a freak.

Please don’t corner me and ask, “What’s wrong?” Or worse-please, please, please don’t suggest I should be “over it by now”. 

Read the rest here:  Grief and Grace:What I Need from Friends and Family

 

Repost: Fault Lines: Bereaved Parents and Social Anxiety

Even at four years into this journey, I can surprise myself when, for no apparent reason, grief explodes from someplace deep within me.  

I’m keyed into triggers-sights, smells, places and people that remind me of Dominic.

But sometimes I can’t figure out what causes the tears to fall or my stomach to be tied in knots.  

It seems to happen most often when I’m in social situations.  I feel surrounded, trapped and anxiety mounts. 

I’m no geologist, but from what I understand, earthquakes are nearly always “about to happen”.  Fault lines guarantee it.  Pressure is building underneath the surface of the earth and when it reaches a level that can no longer be contained, it spews.

Can I just let you in on a secret?

Bereaved parents are full of fault lines.

Many of us are nearly ready to blow almost every single minute, yet hold it in and hold it together.  If you could put a meter to our temple and measure how close we are to a come apart, you would be amazed that it happens so rarely!

Read the rest here:  Fault Lines: Bereaved Parents and Social Anxiety

Repost: They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I remember the first couple times I ventured out in public after Dominic left us and the flurry of activity surrounding his funeral was over.

I felt naked, afraid and oh, so vulnerable.  

The tiniest misplaced word or random glance could undo me and I burst into tears.  

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Bereavement: How Other People Can Help

I ran across this infographic awhile ago and LOVE how it puts things in an easy to see and easy to follow format.

It’s a great tool-not only for those grieving the loss of a loved onebut for anyone going through a rough patch.  

bereavement how others can help graphic