What’s Changed, What’s The Same Six Years Down The Road Of Child Loss?

What’s changed and what is still the same six years down the road of child loss?

I’ve thought about this a lot in the past few months as I prepared for, greeted and marked another year of unwelcome milestones since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Some things are exactly the same:

  • Whenever I focus solely on his absence, my heart still cries, “Can he REALLY be gone?” I am STILL A Mess Some Days….
  • The pain is precisely as painful as the moment I got the news.
  • It’s just as horrific today to dwell on the manner of his leaving.
  • I miss him, I miss him, I miss him. I live every day with his Tangible Absence.
  • I am thankful for his life, for the opportunity to be his mama and for the part of me shaped by who he was.
  • The absolute weight of grief has not changed. The burden remains a heavy one.
  • Daily choices are the difference between giving up and going on. I have to make Wise Choices in Grief.
  • My faith in Christ and my confidence that His promises are sure is the strength on which I rely. I have been Knocked Down But Not Destroyed.
  • I passionately look forward to the culmination of all history when every sad thing will come untrue.

Some things are very different:

  • Dominic’s absence is no longer all I see.
  • Sorrow and pain are no longer all I feel.
  • I’ve learned to live in spite of the hole in my heart-his unique place isn’t threatened by allowing myself to love others and pouring my life into the people I have left.
  • Joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive. They live together in my heart and I can smile and laugh again while still pining for a time when things were different and easier.
  • I am Stronger because I’ve carried this burden for years. I’ve learned to shift it from side to side.
  • The darkness has receded so that I see light once more. I’m not as prone to fall as fast down the dark hole of despair.
  • My heart longs for reunion but has also learned to treasure the time I have left here on earth.

I’ve never hidden the struggle and pain of this journey.

But I don’t want those who are fresh in grief to think that how they are feeling TODAY is the way they will feel FOREVER.

By doing the work grief requires, making wise choices and holding onto hope a heart does begin to heal.

I am not as fragile today as I was on the first day.

And I am so, so thankful for that.

What, Exactly, IS “Grief Work”?

I have used the term for years and only recently has someone asked me to define it.

I guess I never realized that in all the writing about it, I’d never really explained what it meant.

So here goes.

The term was coined by psychiatrist Erich Lindemann in the 1940s. He worked with survivors of the Cocoanut Grove tragedy and observed that grievers experienced common symptoms, feelings and faced similar challenges. Through his work, he developed a theory of grief incorporating his observations and his technique for walking grievers through these common issues.

Image result for six stages of grief erich lindeman

Today the term has been expanded and is used widely to describe almost any approach to grief that includes specific techniques for helping someone walk the path of loss.

I use “grief work” to mean all the ways I (and others) must actively seek to identify, face, process, and ultimately incorporate the feelings, trauma and changes loss force upon us.

Grief work (in no particular order) can include but is not limited to:

  • Attending sessions with a professional, spiritual or lay counselor. Some people find it helpful to have a safe person outside the immediate grief circle to discuss feelings, concerns and relationship challenges that are generated by loss or exacerbated by loss. It’s best to find a counselor who specializes in grief, preferably child loss and/or traumatic loss (all child loss can be classed as traumatic loss). Other counselors may be too quick to label a bereaved parent’s grief as “abnormal” or “too lengthy” or “complicated” when it is, in fact, closely following observed timelines for dealing with child loss. If the first counselor you find isn’t a fit, try another. It’s OK to insist that you are heard, your feelings respected and your loss recognized for the life-shattering event that it is.
  • Finding, joining and participating in online or in person support groups. There are literally dozens of online support groups for bereaved parents. Some are designed to meet the needs surrounding specific types of loss such as sudden death, suicide, drug overdoses or loss to cancer or another disease or condition. Some are organized around certain faiths. Others may be rooted in geographic proximity and the online group might have a monthly or quarterly face-to-face meeting in the area. While it can sometimes be overwhelming to see the number of parents in such a group, it’s also extremely helpful to have a safe space to share things only another bereaved parent can understand.
  • Setting aside quiet time to think, process and possibly journal feelings. So much grief work must be done alone. Counselors can equip me with tools, support groups can give me real-life examples and encouragement but only I can do the nitty-gritty labor of teasing apart all the feelings and change grief brings with it. Journaling has been very helpful for me in putting words to what can sometimes be rather nebulous thoughts swirling around in my head. When I name what I’m feeling or experiencing, I can better construct a strategy for processing and living with it.
  • Walking back through memories, noting regrets, forgiving yourself and making peace with the past. We ALL have things we would have done differently. Death, being final, forces a heart to face that there is no chance to atone for past behavior. Words unsaid, things undone, opportunities missed are carved in the stone of yesterday. I spent many nights recounting my shortcomings as a mother, berating myself for what I didn’t do. Eventually I was able to rest on the simple fact that one thing I DID do was make sure Dominic knew he was loved.
  • Setting boundaries to give yourself and your family space and time to do grief work as well as to conserve emotional, relational and physical energy that’s in limited supply after child loss. So many of us live with few or no boundaries-responding to every request with a “yes”, adding things to the calendar without a thought to how exhausted we might be at the end of a day or week. Some of us are overtaxed at work or school. Some of us are hyper-involved in our churches, civic organizations or local politics. There are dozens of ways to be extended and just as many ways to live with that constant drain. Child loss forced me to recognize that I could no longer BE that person. I couldn’t afford the time, energy, mental space and emotional burden of saying “yes” anymore. I learned that “NO” is a complete sentence and began using it.
  • Practical considerations regarding your child’s belongings and other personal property. Many people might not consider this part of grief but it is. So many details to take care of, so many times I had to repeat the words, “My son was killed in an accident. I need to close this account.” So many copies of his death certificate mailed out to different agencies or companies, documenting the awful reality that he was never coming home again. Then there are questions of what to keep, what to store, what to give away. Should a room remain untouched if your child still lived at home? We had to clean out Dominic’s apartment only a few days after his funeral. It felt like I was boxing up everything beautiful about my boy.
  • Learning how to do holidays, birthdays, family gatherings, vacations and other gatherings. The empty chair looms larger when all the others are filled. If you have been the primary organizer of such events, it might surprise you to find the rest of the family still expecting you to be that person. Even if you aren’t the host for holidays, you will need to communicate to others if or how you feel comfortable participating.
  • Maintaining or regaining health after loss. Stress is one of the greatest contributors to so many health issues. Child loss is an unbelievably stressful experience. So it’s no wonder that many parents find themselves post loss with new or aggravated health problems. I had an appointment with my rheumatologist just one month after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. It was critical that I tell her of my loss because in addition to whatever medical interventions she was prepared to prescribe, she needed to know I would be experiencing an extended period of intense stress that might necessitate closer observation and follow-up. As difficult as it may be to talk about, it’s important to inform your healthcare providers of your loss and to be absolutely honest about changes you’ve noticed in your body as a result.

There are probably a dozen or more subcategories of grief work I could list and some of you might think of ones I wouldn’t.

Grief IS work.

It is important, necessary and exhausting WORK.

It requires time, resources, effort and energy and cannot be hurried along.

But it is the only way a heart can begin to put the pieces back together.

Every Tiny Step Counts

When Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I felt like I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually knocked to the floor.  I had no idea how I was going to make a life after this great blow.   I could barely get dressed, much less do anything that took more thought or energy than that.

I was overwhelmed.   I had to learn to walk all over again.

And I did it with baby steps, in a judgement free-zone I created for myself where I refused to gauge my progress against anyone else’s.

its all about the baby steps

Because baby steps count.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/28/baby-steps-count/

All Grief Is Unique: Same Person, Different Relationship

I think it’s almost always offensive when someone says, “I know just how you feel” to a grieving heart.

Even two biological parents of the same child have a slightly different relationship with him or her because their experience is filtered through the lens of distinct personalities, shared adventures, struggles, joys and secrets.

We are a family of six-four kids and two parents.

Each one of us has experienced Dominic’s death differently because he was uniquely woven into the fabric of our separate stories as well as our corporate story.

Parts of me reflected back from him are gone forever. The unique give and take we shared is my loss alone.

Sibling memories, inside jokes, sneaky “don’t tell mom” pranks and antics belong to his sister and brothers and are part of their loss I can neither understand nor access.

Yes, we share corporately the loss of a son and brother, but none of us can really say, “I know just how you feel”.

Because we don’t.

And that’s one of the things that makes grief a very lonely journey.

All these feelings wrapped inside of experiences bound up in memories stored in two hearts. Only now one of them is inaccessible and the other is trying to find a way to carry both halves of the relationship.

Part of the work grief requires is gathering up the fragments of memory and tucking them safely away.

It will be different for each heart.

Even hearts that mourn the loss of the same person.

Why Can’t I Keep My House Clean? Grief and Everyday Responsiblities

I freely admit I was never a housecleaning fanatic.

With a busy family, a small farm and mountains of paper, pencils and books scattered around I was content if the most obvious dirt was swept up and the sink free of dishes.

But, I DID have a routine.  I DID clean my bathrooms and wash clothes and make beds and vacuum the rugs on a regular basis.

Not anymore.

Even all this time after Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I have not reestablished any kind of rhythm to keeping house, making meals or doing the most basic, necessary chores.

And I don’t really know why.

I’m not overly busy.  I’m not doing other things that keep me away from the necessary things.  

In fact, sometimes I actually sit down for what I think will be a few minutes only to find a couple hours have raced by while I was doing nothing.  That NEVER happened before.

Literally, never.

I was a dynamo from the time I woke in the morning until evening-moving, moving, moving.  I certainly still have plenty I COULD do, but not so much that I WANT to do.

I’ve pondered, “Why?” and only been able to come up with a single answer: Grief is WORK.  And apparently I only have so much energy to divide between what I need to do (grief work) and what I’d like to do (clean my house, etc.).

The hours I spend “doing nothing” are actually hours spent working through feelings, thoughts, spiritual conundrums and rediscovering who I am in light of what has happened.

So I’m learning to cut corners and give myself a break.  Because it doesn’t appear that my get-up-and-go is coming back anytime soon.

Here are some practical things I’ve been doing to make daily life work:

I’ve adjusted my standards.  I have a minimal acceptable standard and apply that to my home and myself instead of trying to live up to “what others want me to do/be”. For me, it means no germy surfaces, clutter free places to sit and eat, wiped down bathrooms and clean clothes for the day.  

Anything over that is a bonus!

I take shortcuts.  Paper goods for meals to cut down on dishes.  Easy menus for dinners (lots of crockpot recipes).  I keep paper towels and cleaner in each bathroom and wipe down when I’m in there for something else instead of making “clean the bathrooms” a separate chore.  

I have baskets to catch wayward items and carry them upstairs all at once or just leave them in the baskets.  I wash clothes but don’t worry if I get them folded.  I bought more underwear and socks so washing isn’t an emergency.

I don’t apologize when someone stops by and things aren’t as tidy as they used to be or I wish they were. 

I won’t waste emotional energy on worrying about what they think.  

And when I find that I’m sitting down, pondering some aspect of loss or life or love, I lean in and do it.  I grab my computer or a journal and write out what’s running through my head.  

Because that’s the more important work right now.  

Grief Journaling Prompts

Journaling has been and continues to be a very important part of my grief journey.

Putting thoughts on paper gets them out of my head.

Writing them down helps me understand them.

i-write-because-i-dont-know

Reading them back is an excellent reflective exercise. It’s a way to track progress, recognize repeating patterns and see where I need to do more grief work.

Sometimes I use Scripture, quotes or other prompts to get me started.  Often I may look up words in the dictionary and jot down the definition or synonyms or examples.  I may draw my way around a concept or cut out pictures from magazines or the newspaper to add to my creation.  There have been days I’ve spent hours and several sheets of paper moving my feelings from my heart to the page.

So if you want to try your hand at journaling, here is a list I find useful.  

Don’t set any parameters or have any expectations.  

Just write, color, draw or whatever flows naturally.

And if the tears fall, let them.

grief journaling exercise