The Best Way To Help A Struggling Heart

The best way to help a struggling heart is to simply be available.

Anyone can choose to be a safe space for others to share their hearts.

Anyone can make room for honest conversation, welcoming another soul to unburden itself of whatever heaviness is weighing it down.

All it takes is a listening ear and time.

best way you can help me

To The Friends Who Stay

Sticking with a friend whose life is hard and is going to continue to be hard is not for the faint of heart.

Not all wounds can be healed.  

Not all problems have a resolution.

Not all relationships follow a path that leads to a happy ending. 

grief lasts longer than sympathy

So here’s to the friends that don’t give up, that refuse to leave and whose presence remind me that while life is painful, it is also beautiful.  

Here’s to the ones whose commitment to love me in the dark places reminds me that love still lives.  

You’re my lifeline.  

good friends

 

Laughter

“A joy-filled heart is curative balm, but a broken spirit hurts all the way to the bone.” ~Proverbs 17:22 VOICE

Laughter is good for my heart.  Not just my physical blood-pumping organ, but the emotional center of my being.

And in this Valley of the Shadow of Death, laughter can be a real life-saver.

So I try to work some in each day.  I purpose to see the lighter side of challenging moments, make a point of actually watching those goofy videos passed around on Facebook, read jokes and practice responding with a smile.

It’s not betraying Dominic-although it kind of felt that way in the first few weeks-it’s honoring his sense of humor and celebrating his life.

Our family spent hours laughing around the table, in the living room and passing wry texts back and forth.

I firmly believe there will be laughter in Heaven.  I think that part of joy is great big belly laughs that will shake me from head to toe.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep practicing down here.

True Love

It’s nice to get flowers or chocolate or balloons or cards that say, “I love you”.

But true love can’t be bought.

True love is marked by sacrifice, ongoing support, genuine compassion and willingness to do whatever it takes to “be there” for another person.

It means standing with someone even when walking beside them includes bearing the unbearable. 

So I have a radical suggestion for this Valentine’s Day-instead of lining the pockets of America’s merchandising gurus-take a moment to write a note to someone who has truly loved you.

Tell them how their love has changed your life.

How their patience gives you space to grow.

How their kindness sings hope to your heart.

How their refusal to envy, boast or brag allows you to rejoice in their blessings without feeling left out or less than.

How their humility and gentleness invites you to share the deepest things, certain your secrets are safe.

How their refusal to keep a tally of the ways you’ve disappointed them grants freedom to try again.

How their trust and hope shine light in your life and give your heart something to hold onto.

How their enduring love gives you a glimpse of heaven.

Let the ones who love you well know that what they do makes a difference.  

Every. Single. Day.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

 

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

I love the idea of Random Acts of Kindness-it’s a beautiful way to spread love and joy in our broken world.

With a few dollars or a few minutes, I have the opportunity to make someone’s day brighter, their burden lighter and remind them that not everyone is “out to get them”.

BUT-as I’ve written before here:  Relational Acts of Kindness, it’s relatively easy to do my good deed and walk away.

When I bless a stranger, my work is done.

I feel good, they feel good-it’s all good.

I find it much harder to purpose to be kind every day to the people I actually KNOW-the one who may have said cutting things in the past, the one who consistently rubs me the wrong way, the one I feel is lazy or subversive or just holds opinions with which I disagree.

How about the one I thought would show up to help but didn’t?  Or the one who has told tales about me or my family?  The one who lets her children run wild at church? The one who makes others uncomfortable with her dress, or language, or lack of social skill?

Being kind to THAT person is hard.

I want to turn the other way.  I want to make excuses.  I want to pretend that my kindness toward strangers balances my lack of kindness to those with whom I walk daily.

It doesn’t.

I am called to be kind at precisely that place where it is most difficult.  I am called to act in love toward just that person who is most unloveable.  I am called to lay down my life where it looks most likely to be unappreciated.

ephesians-4-31-32

Denying myself is the very method by which Christ builds His kingdom.

Offering my body as a living sacrifice is the pressure He applies to mold my flesh into His likeness

washing-feet-beauty

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be your slave—just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”

Matthew 20:27-29 PHILLIPS

 

 

Repost: The Cost of Compassion

 

compassion is a choice

I can’t help it.

I think too much.  I wonder too often.  I work too hard to make sense of things.

And the thing that is puzzling me right now is why people pull away from those experiencing deep and lasting pain.

Read the rest here:  the cost of compassion

What to say? What to do? Loving the Grieving in Public Places

 

Last week I wrote about some strategies I employ when in a social situation: Surviving Social Situations After Child Loss

But if you are the friend, family member or acquaintance milling around who bumps into me or spies me across the room, here are some things you can do and say that will help me as well:

Be aware that the greeting, “How are you?” sometimes feels like a challenge instead of an invitation. I’m scrambling for words to express my true condition without ruining the mood of the gathering.  It would be so much better if you simply said, “Hello” or “I’m happy to see you” without additional comments about how long it’s been.

Don’t pose or push for answers to questions that are primarily designed to satisfy your own curiosity.  If I give a brief reply, take the hint and move on.  If I say I can’t talk about it, drop the subject.  If I turn the conversation back to you, pick it up and carry the ball.  Public spaces are not the place to try to draw me out.  If you are concerned about me or want to REALLY know how I’m doing, take me to lunch or bring me dinner or invite me out for coffee.

questions

Notice my body language.  If I am fidgeting or hugging myself or backing away or crossing my arms it’s time to let me go.  I may hold my tongue but my body will give you abundant clues that I’m nearly at my limit for social interaction.  Give me permission to end the conversation and preserve my dignity.

Hugs are almost always wonderful.  Physical touch conveys love and compassion without requiring any response.  If you know me well enough to hug me or squeeze my hand, please do.

brene-brown-on-empathy-image

Don’t corner me-physically, emotionally or spiritually.  Backing me into a tight space makes me feel trapped.  If I’m on the end of a pew or aisle, don’t ask me to scoot down so you can join me.  I’m there in case I need to make an exit.  Don’t stand too close to me while we’re talking-my need for adequate personal space has greatly increased since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  Don’t throw Bible verses at me or ask me how Jesus is meeting me in my sorrow.  These are things we can talk about together, in private, in a way that makes space for me to be honest and express emotion without fear of embarresment.

Don’t make comparisons between my missing child and person featured in the wedding, baby shower or engagement party we are attending. Trust me, I’ve already done the math. I already know the distance between Dominic’s homegoing and this day.  I am already mourning one more thing I’ll never get to see him do.

cant-understand

Please don’t use this time to tell me about another bereaved mother you “just want to introduce to me”.  I am open and willing to walk with others on this journey, but this is not the time nor the place to put me on the spot.  If you know of another mom that needs my help, write me a note, give me a call or text me.

If I leave a room, don’t follow (unless you are a very close friend).  Let me go.  I will return if I can and if I can’t, I won’t.  Text me if you’re concerned.  If I come back, let me slip in without any fanfare.

If I cry, hand me a tissue or a handkerchief.  Don’t ask, “What’s wrong?” Besides the obvious, I may not have an answer for you.

woman-mourning

Please help me move conversation along when I lose my train of thought or seem at a loss for words.  Grief makes it hard to think sometimes, especially when in a crowd and/or a place with lots of background noise.  Give me permission to end a conversation-it probably doesn’t have a thing to do with YOU-I’m just running out of steam and need a few minutes’ respite from having to talk.  

Attending social events is exhausting for me now.  I want to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations-but that means a lot of people and a lot of unknowns.  Dozens of potential triggers, any one of which might conjure a grief wave that can drown me.  

I do what I can to be prepared. 

But I’ll take all the help I can get.

best-way-you-can-help-me

 

 

Who Steps In? Who Walks Out?

I was absolutely overwhelmed in those first days.

Cars, cars, cars filled my long driveway and front yard.

People spilling out like ants scrambling after the hill is disturbed.

Oh, our hill was disturbed-knocked wide open by that deputy’s visit.  Phone calls to let others know.  Phone calls from people who couldn’t get in touch with him and were just checking “in case something had happened”.

It had happened.

It. HAD. happened.

After the customary ceremony and handshaking and food, the cards flooded in.  Some with hand-written heartfelt messages of, “praying for you”, “we are so very sorry”, “we love you”. Some with pre-printed poems that absolve the sender of the need to find words for things for which there are no words.

My son is dead.  What can you say to that?

And then the silence.  The morning that I woke up to  realize I had done all I ever could do for Dominic.  My last act was to find his body a resting place and pray his soul to heaven.

He was home.

I was left in a strange country filled with landmarks I no longer recognized and a language I no longer understood.

Who comes into that?

Not many.  Only a few brave souls stick around for the after-only a few true friends keep calling and coming and caring for the long haul.

Because sitting with me in my grief, listening to me question my faith, keeping company with uncertainty and loss of control is frightening.  It takes great self-control to simply be present and not try to say something or do something to try to fix the unfixable.

If it could happen to MY family, it could happen to theirs.  And no one wants to think of that unless they have to.

So most leave.

Not immediately and not flamboyantly.  They just drift away like unmoored sailboats caught in the rising winds of life and busyness and school plays and church socials.

My personal tragedy is a footnote to their life journal-and who reads footnotes?

But there are a few who purpose to make my burden their burden.  

A few who call and write and text and message on the important dates like when he died, his birthday, Christmas, Easter.  Even fewer who call and write and text and message just because-just because they heard a song or saw a sunset or remembered for a moment that there is a mama out there who carries this grief 24/7.

I have no idea how Jesus will reward His followers when they make it Home.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that the ones who choose to run in when others run away will receive a crown. Because their faithful love in the dark places brings life and light to hurting hearts.

And isn’t that the essence of the gospel message?

You are not alone.  

You are loved.

There is a way forward.

When you have exhausted all your own resources, God has made a way where there was no way. Even when you can’t take a step on your own-especially when you can’t take a step on your own-Jesus will carry you.

The ones who stay sing the gospel song to my heart.

They remind me that Jesus hasn’t forgotten.

presence best gift

 

 

No More “Smile and Wave”!

We live in a world of fake smiles, plastic body parts and cheap knock-offs.  We’re so used to it that sometimes we can’t tell the difference anymore.

It’s part of our relationship patterns too.

We see someone we know out shopping and toss, “How are you?” at them anticipating the obligatory reply:

“I’m just FINE!  How are YOU?”  (Said with a deep southern accent and wide, lipsticked smile.)

shopping-cart-medium

But then something unexpected happens.

She says, “I’m having a hard time.  I’m struggling.  This week has been really stressful.  (Spoken in a whisper, through tears.)

weakness1

And I’m faced with a choice:  

Do I shut her down or draw her out?  Do I recognize the courage it took to be honest or do I dismiss her openness as inconvenient and inconsequential?

 

Me, I’ll take genuine, every time.

I will stop, find a quiet corner and allow her to share as long as it takes.  I will pray or listen or hug or console until the storm passes.

Because that has been, and still is, ME sometimes.

Before Dominic left us, if you saw me in the grocery store you would have gotten the answer you expected.  My eyes on my list, my head filled with the next thing I was going to do when I left with my buggy full, my heart unbroken and whole-who’s got time for chit-chat?

Smile and wave was standard practice as I moseyed on down the aisle.

Not anymore.

There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than people in this life.

compassion and stay with you

If you want proof, ask a bereaved mama.

Because no one knows with more certainty, with more clarity and will tell you with more conviction that MORE TIME  with someone you love is the ONE thing you would give EVERYTHING for-in a heartbeat. 

So I will lay aside things and chores and to do lists.  

I will give up entertainment and ignore the urge to check Facebook or Twitter.

Because the person in front of me is a gift.

And I want to unwrap that gift and be present for every moment.

kindness

Practical Ideas for Dealing with the Holidays after Child Loss

This is the fourth in a series on making plans for the holidays after loss.

Yes, it’s early and no, you might not want to think about them-it’s really hard to imagine Thanksgiving and Christmas without the child you love.  BUT, the days will come whether we want them to or not. Here’s some help to navigate them.

If you missed the first three posts you can find them here:

Grief and Holiday Plans: Working Out the Details

Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family.

It cannot be overstated:  holidays are extremely hard after loss.  Every family gathering highlights the hole where my son SHOULD be, but ISN’T.

There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to handle the holidays after losing a child.

For many, there is only survival-especially the very first year.

These days also stir great internal conflict:  I want to enjoy and celebrate my living children and my family still here while missing my son that isn’t. Emotions run high and are, oh so difficult to manage.

So I’m including some ideas from other bereaved parents on how they’ve handled the holidays.  Many of these suggestions could be adapted for any “special” day of the year.

Not all will appeal to everyone nor will they be appropriate for every family.  But they are a place to start.

If you have decided to make a Holiday Journal,  consider printing these ideas to put inside or copying out the ones that might be helpful for you.

Skip it.  

  • Sounds drastic and it is.  But for some families (especially if there are no small children involved) it is absolutely possible (and sometimes healing) to ignore all traditions and trappings associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • You might choose to serve others on these days by volunteering with a local organization offering meals to the homeless or disadvantaged in your community.
  • Take a holiday meal to hospital workers, police officers or firemen in your area.  You can do it anonymously or in the name of your child.

Consider traveling for the holidays.

  • On the first Thanksgiving after my son left us, we shared the weekend with our newly married son and his wife in another state.  It was the first time in my life I hadn’t spent the holiday with my parents.  It was still very hard, but helpful in a way.
  • Other families have chosen to rent a cabin or condo and have the same people involved but experience the season in another location.  Most try to choose a place with a natural focus for activity that isn’t all about the holiday-like skiing in the mountains or near a lake or beach.

Change how you do meals.

  • If your family traditions always include the same foods in the same house, you might want to eat the holiday meal in a restaurant instead.
  • You could swap up the timing of a meal-evening instead of noon or vice-versa.
  • Change up the guest list-include a few close friends along with family members (friends that understand your grief).  Sometimes it helps to have others not so affected by the loss in the mix.
  • If you have been the host but don’t feel like you can do it this year-definitely consider passing that to someone else.  And don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Include the missing family members at the table in some way. One bereaved mom wrote:  “My niece includes my  son and mom at events hosted in her home.  She sets a chair aside and places a photo in the seat and a commemorative bow on the chair back.”
  • Don’t make certain foods. I make giant plates of cookies but have not made shortbread cookies since my son left us.  It was his favorite and one of the few things that tempted him from his strict weight-lifting diet
  • Make your child’s favorites and enjoy eating them and sharing memories around the table.

Let others do the planning/cooking/communicating.

  • Explain to your family that you aren’t up to being the one to plan this year’s holidays.  Let someone else do it.  Participate if and when you can.  
  • Be kind, but stand your ground.

Make new traditions. 

  • If you go around the table at Thanksgiving saying, “I’m thankful for…“-it might not be something you can do this year.  That’s OK.
  • Light a candle for the missing child.  You might want to have those present share a favorite memory or you might simply want to have the candle create a silent presence.
  • Some families can’t bring themselves to use the same Christmas tree they used before loss so they get a new and/or different one.  Some don’t want a tree at all.
  • Some families have a separate tree full of ornaments or memorabilia for their missing child and use the main tree as usual for the rest of the family.
  •  “I have a separate tree for Z. . It’s filled with ornaments that remind us of him. They range from glass ornaments with his favorite candy inside to a Thomas the tank engine ornament. Collecting more ornaments for him as I’m out shopping for others helps me during this very painful time.”
  • Some families don’t hang any stockings while others hang them all, including the missing child’s.
  • Another family asks family members and friends to write a note to their son or share a favorite memory of him.  They place them in his stocking to be opened and read on Christmas Day.
  • “We asked everyone to do a random act of kindness in memory of our daughter and our friends’ son and to email it to us. We printed out all of the emails, put them in her stocking and read them as a family on Christmas morning. It was amazing to hear all of the lives touched as a result, and it took our focus off of our loss.”
  • My husband, children (all adults) and myself didn’t want to receive gifts from extended family the first year.  We still gave them, but asked that others refrain or give a donation in our son’s name.
  • Some families buy gifts that would be appropriate for another child the same age as their missing child (or the age they would be) and give them to  another child for Christmas.

Commemorate your child:  

  • Some bereaved parents put a Christmas tree with solar powered or battery powered lights on their child’s resting place.
  • Some parents take family photos and include a large photo of their missing child or a special family memento (like a stuffed animal or symbol on a shirt) to represent that child in the pictures.
  • Some families give donations in their child’s name to organizations that purchase Christmas gifts for needy families or food for families at Thanksgiving.
  • In some communities there is a “Blue Christmas” ceremony on December 21st each year in which families gather to remember lost loved ones with music, candles and sometimes a devotional message. Some are sponsored by local chapters of The Compassionate Friends.  If there is not one in your area, your church may be willing to host one.

Keep the same traditions:

  • For some families, keeping everything the same is the most comforting choice. Especially if there are young children involved, it may be the easiest way to go.
  • But feel free to ask for help.  If you are not up to shopping for children in the family, make a list, let someone else do it and wrap the presents for you. Or use an online shopping service (many offer gift wrap).
  • Same goes for holiday outings-maybe a good family friend or an extended family member could take the children this year and document it with photos.

Whatever you choose to do or not do, know that there’s no wrong way or right way.  

Be gentle with yourself-this is a hard road.  And a long one. 

Photo credit: State Farm via Visual hunt