Book Review: Remember to Breathe

I’m a member of several online bereaved parents groups.

They are safe spaces to share my heart and be assured the ones who read what I write understand my pain.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to develop friendships with some of the women who, like me, have experienced child loss and who have made a choice to seek God in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Evelyn Fannell is one such friend.

I was drawn immediately to her honest but grace-filled posts and comments in our groups. I recognized a heart that was full of Scripture but was, like me, dissatisfied with pat answers to the difficult questions a mother has when her child is taken suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically.

When life throws you a curve, even if you hurt so much you feel like giving up or giving in, remember to breathe. Deeply. Hold on to that breath as though it were your last, and it will get you through the next moment. And you’ll get through the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that…until that when you see your beloved again.

Just remember to breathe.

Evelyn Fannell, Remember to Breathe, page 169

She has written a memoir that is honest, helpful and hope-filled.

Her son, Joseph, was killed by a distracted driver just a short distance from his destination.

Image result for Remember to Breathe Evelyn Fannell

No mama’s heart is prepared to get THAT phone call. It knocks the wind right out of you. But from the beginning, Evelyn knew if she was to survive this, she had to remember to breathe.

In Remember to Breathe, Evelyn draws on her experience walking the road of child loss and her relationship with her Savior and weaves them together in a way that grieving parents will find authentic and encouraging.

Even in my dreams, God reminded me to live and to breathe.

There aren’t words to describe how devastating it has been to lose my youngest child. But I have learned and grown through the experience of grief, and one of the lessons I’ve learned is something I think applies in a lot of different situations.

It is okay NOT to be okay.

Evelyn Fannell, Remember to Breathe, page 43

I’ve said here before that we have to exhale in order to inhale.

Remember to Breathe is one woman’s account of doing just that-letting go of the things and thoughts that weigh us down on this journey and inhaling the grace, mercy and courage of our Shepherd.

If your heart is longing for an authentic example to follow, I highly recommend this book.

So What SHOULD I Say or Do For My Grieving Friends or Family?

I have learned so much since that day when Dominic left us suddenly for Heaven.

Some of the things I know now are things I wish I didn’t know at all.

I’ve learned some things that serve me well-not only in how I respond to my own pain and loss-but also how I respond to the pain and loss in the lives of those I love.

I’ve had to practice them this week since my mama was desperately ill and then joined Dominic and Jesus.

It reminded me how hard it is for those who have not walked this Valley of the Shadow of Death to really comprehend how their words and actions either truly support or subtly (or not so subtly!) wound already hurting hearts.

So here’s a short list of things things to say and do that actually HELP grieving friends and family:

  • Not everyone leaves earth quickly. Some are ill for a long time. It’s natural for friends to want to stop by home or hospital to see a sick loved one and show support for the family. Please call ahead to see if it’s convenient. If it’s not, then don’t come. Respect that while it may feel like a reunion to you and others gathered in the living room or the waiting room it’s a very sober and frightening and stress-filled time for the family. Loud laughing and back-slapping are unwelcome reminders that the person in the bed can do neither.
  • Please don’t impose your desire to help on the family’s unwillingness to accept it. Offer-that’s wonderful and appreciated-but there may be circumstances you don’t know about that just make it hard or impossible for them to let you do what you would like to do. It’s really, really hard to use the limited energy available to politely turn down an offer.
  • When you stop by to pay respects, don’t overstay your welcome. You’ll probably never notice that the family is working hard to extend hospitality and make small talk. It’s exhausting. You are not the only people “stopping by for a minute” while the family is trying to take care of funeral details. They are deciding on what clothes their loved one will be buried in, what photos to include in a memorial slide show, what will be served at dinner after the service, who will sing or speak or play a piano solo. There’s just no energy left for small talk. Express condolences, leave the dessert or congealed salad and leave them to the little bit of quiet they may enjoy before the next few days of crazy.
  • Take time to write notes of remembrance if you can. Facebook comments, text messages, emails, written notes or cards are wonderful! These can be gathered together, printed and saved as a beautiful tribute.
  • If you haven’t played an active role in the deceased’s life or the life of their family recently, don’t show up and insist on “inner circle” privileges now that they are gone. This is not the time to force reconciliation or expect a family reunion type celebration. While that may be the ultimate outcome of this traumatic and life-altering event, respect those that have maintained relationship over the years.
  • Instead of asking, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, instead say, “How may I serve you in the weeks and months to come?”. Grievers may not have an immediate answer, but ask again in a week or so after others have drifted away. Also consider asking if specific things may be helpful.
  • Don’t wander around the house. Respect the family’s privacy.
  • Don’t ask personal questions such as “How did he die?” or “What happened?”. If the bereaved want you to know, they will tell you.

Be attentive to body language.

Allow grievers to lead.

Don’t ignore comments that indicate it’s time to go.

Accept that what you may want to do and what is truly helpful may be two different things.

Fewer words are almost always better than idle chatter.

Give grace.

Do This, Not That: How To Help A Grieving Friend

“Above all, show your love.  Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened up in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away.  Your steadiness of presence is the absolute best thing you can give.”  ~ Refuge in Grief

I truly believe that our friends and family WANT to be helpful as they companion us in grief.  

But if they’ve never known great loss, they may well be clueless.  

I love to share ideas, graphics and stories that can help them learn how.  

Here’s a good list, just right for sharing: 

  • Don’t compare griefs, ask questions.
  • Don’t minimize, respect their experience.
  • Don’t give compliments, trust your friend.
  • Don’t be a cheerleader, mirror their reality.
  • Don’t talk about “later”, stay in the present moment.
  • Don’t evangelize, trust their self-care.
  • Don’t start with solutions, get consent.

I’m not computer savvy enough to make graphics like this so I love it when I find them. 

I especially like this one which puts so many good ideas in a simple to use, easy to remember format. 

These are absolutely perfect for anyone walking with a grieving friend. 

do this not that for grief

Repost: Ask Me. Please.

I have been guilty of this more times than I ‘d like to admit. 

I assume someone else’s feelings mirror my own and act on that assumption by withdrawing or not showing up or “giving them space”.

But the problem is, most times, on reflection, I realize my action (or inaction) was really all about sparing my own feelings  or staying within my own comfort zone.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

~Jeremiah 17:9 NIV

So I’m learning to ask hard questions.

Read the rest here:  Ask Me, Please.

Repost: Lessons in Grief-Learning to Listen

I admit it:  I’m a fixer.

It’s probably genetic (won’t mention any names!) but it has been reinforced by training and life experience.

When faced with a difficult or messy situation, my mind instantly rolls through an inventory of available resources and possible solutions.

And I tended to cut people off mid-sentence with my brilliant (?) plan to save the day.

But there are things you just can’t fix.

Read the rest here:  Lessons in Grief: Learning to Listen

Empathy Has No Script

I think if we are absolutely honest, most of us would admit we have few relationships that operate without some kind of script.

We are friends with someone because we like the same hobbies or spend time together at a job or ball park or church.  

We fall in love with someone because they “complete” us and offer companionship, emotional support and stability. 

When the script fails (for whatever reason) we tend to pull away from those  relationships.

But if I choose to enter into the suffering of another, I must do so without a script and commit to the long haul.

I must follow his or her lead, allow him or her to guide my response and refuse to impose my preferences on that hurting heart.  

I’m there to hold a hand and help a heart hold onto hope.  

empathy has no script brene brown

Cheerleaders Are More Important Than You Think

I‘ve never been the cheerleader type. 

No long legs, long hair or graceful moves that might have caught the eye of the ever watchful gatekeepers who picked the favored few each year to represent beauty on the sidelines.

So (I’ll be honest here) I really didn’t give the position much thought beyond the fact that those girls always got asked to dances first.

But in these years since Dominic left us I’ve learned something very important about cheerleaders-both the ones in the cute clothes at sporting events and the ones that come alongside others in real life:  they make a difference.  

word of encouragement is the fuel for hope

Cheerleaders are more important than you think.

Someone calling courage can mean a heart holds on when it’s about to let go.

Someone reminding you what’s at stake if you give up can help you dig deep for that last bit of effort hiding inside.

Someone chanting rhythm to your plodding forward progress can provide another focus for your mind besides the throbbing pain in every step.  

Someone showing up and standing by your side even when the odds are against you says, “You are worth the effort-win or lose!”

courage-dear-heart

You don’t have to be a certain size or a certain type to be a real-life cheerleader.  

You don’t even have to fit into those cute little skirts.

The only qualification is an unqualified commitment to showing up and being seen and holding on and hanging in no matter where life takes the ones you love.  

You have the power to be the difference in somebody’s life. 

I guarantee it.

So get out there and cheer them on! 

cheerleaders