Look How Far You’ve Come!

It’s so easy to focus on the miles left to travel and forget how far I’ve come.

Life has a habit of reminding me that there are hills yet to climb, emotional hurdles still to come and (the ever looming threat) gray hair, wrinkles and an aging body with which to tackle them.

But every now and then I remember to take stock of just how many miles I’ve already traveled.

Read the rest here: Take A Minute To Remember How Far You’ve Come

Bereaved Parents Month 2021: Grief is a Tangled Ball of Emotions

Someone posted this image yesterday on Facebook-they had received a copy in a therapy session and found it a helpful way to picture grief.  

I wanted to share it because perhaps you may find it helpful as well.  

Read the rest here: Grief-A Tangled Ball of Emotions

Life Grows Around Grief

When days become months and months become years it’s hard to explain to others how grief is both always present but not always in focus.

I’ve struggled to help those outside the loss community understand that the absolute weight of the burden is precisely the same as when it fell on me without warning that dark morning.

Dominic’s absence, if anything, has seeped into more places, changed more relationships and influences more choices than it did seven years ago when I was only just beginning to comprehend what a world without him would look like.

But I, and my family, have continued to live.

We’ve added family members through marriage and birth. We’ve gone places, made memories and made career moves. We’ve gotten older. My husband retired. Children moved away.

All these things and more mean that life is simply bigger than it was when Dom left us.

I really like this graphic that puts this in perspective.

It’s a slow, gradual process. And for some hearts who are forced to endure multiple losses in a short time the jar may never get very large because the grief is so great.

I remember when I realized that sorrow was not ALL I felt nor Dominic’s absence ALL I saw. It was a bit frightening to be honest.

Did that mean my love for him was waning or that his importance in our family was forgotten? Was I a bad mother because I no longer cried every day for the child not here? Had my heart grown cold?

But then I realized none of those things were true. What allowed me to feel joy again, to participate fully in family outings or gatherings, to plan holidays and birthdays once more was instead that my heart had found a way to hold both sorrow and gladness at the same time.

There are still days when grief looms large and my world seems too small to contain it. But those don’t come as often as they once did.

Life will march on, regardless of how hard we might wish it wouldn’t.

And, in large measure, life after loss is what we choose to make of it.

I’m not abandoning Dom by embracing my life now.

In fact, I’m sure he’d approve.

How Stress Impacts Grief

It would be so helpful if there was an app to track stress like there is to track spending.

Wouldn’t it be marvelous to get an alert that said, “Low Balance”, for mental, physical and psychological reserves like the one you can get for your bank account right before you are heading to overdraft territory?

But there isn’t.

And few of us are very good at gauging just how much is left in our mental wellness accounts which means we often keep giving when the well is more than dry.

I’d be lying if I said I spend the same amount of time crying, lamenting and bent over in agonizing pain that I did in the early days of mourning Dominic. I’ve found a way to keep him close, to trust his soul to Jesus and to (largely) live in the present instead of always longing for the past.

There are days, though…

Some days are easy to anticipate-birthdays, holidays, the awful anniversary of his leaving-and some sneak up on me. I can often trace my overwhelming sadness to a specific trigger or memory dug up in a drawer or found in a pile of photos.

Occasionally, I have a horrible weepy day for no discernable reason.

That’s when I walk my heart back through recent events and always come to the same conclusion-I’ve let myself run dry:

  • I’ve overcommitted.
  • I’ve not planned rest.
  • I’ve had hard pain days.
  • There’s been family drama.
  • Someone I love is sick.
  • I’m sick.
  • A deadline looms large.
  • There’s some major unpredictability going on.
  • I’ve counseled too many people without enough time to regain my own emotional stores.
  • I’m not sleeping well.
  • I’m doing too much and not listening to my body.

What I’ve come to understand is that stress is a HUGE impact on my grief and how I experience it.

I won’t patronize folks reading this with a simplistic (but wholly unhelpful!) suggestion to “reduce or avoid stress”.

For heaven’s sake! If we could do that with a snap of our fingers we would hardly need someone to tell us to take advantage of that solution.

Truth is, stress is often largely outside our control.

But there ARE some things I can make choices about. So I do. I look ahead at the calendar and note upcoming milestone days. I plug in doctor’s appointments, birthdays and holidays. I review every invitation to celebrations or lunch in light of what is already inked in.

I’ve learned to be honest with folks about my limitations and send a card or gift through the mail if I can’t be there in person. I sometimes suggest an alternative date and time if the one a friend offers just doesn’t work for me. I stand firm in my opinion that “no” is a complete sentence and as long as I’m kind and gracious it is not incumbent upon me to offer an explanation for why I’m turning down an invitation.

And if I have an unexpectedly hard day-from grief or activity or because of my RA-I drop back the next day to allow time to recuperate and rest (if at all possible).

The reality is that child loss means there is ALWAYS a certain low-level hum of stress in my life.

Adding to that already higher-than-average stress means it’s easy for me to be tipped into unhealthy territory.

Crying is only the tip of the iceberg.

Health problems, heart problems, relationship issues and other long-term consequences often result.

It’s not only OK for me to set boundaries to protect my health and my heart,

It’s absolutely, positively the right thing to do.