The Gift Of Silence

It can be tempting, when trying to do the work grief requires to chase away the sorrow and pain with noise.

But that’s unhelpful.

Because you can’t really chase grief anywhere.  It’s inside you, part of you, with you wherever you go.

Read the rest here: Silence is a Gift

What I’d Like You To Know About Grief

There are some things I’d like you to know about grief.

Things I didn’t know until I was the one walking the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Things that can help you companion me and others compassionately, wisely and graciously.

My grief is here-get used to it (please and thank you). Grief has entered my life and while it may be an unwelcome guest, it’s here to stay. I won’t be getting over it or moving on. Grief is the price you pay for love. I will love and miss my child as long as I live, so I will grieve him until my last breath.

The goal of grief isn’t to forget. In fact, the goal of grief work (facing and working through my feelings, my fears and finding a way forward) is to remember and remain connected. I no longer have a physical relationship with my child. I’m trying to figure out how to have one with him in his absence.

I have to do grief my own way. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Who I am, who my child is, what my family looks like, circumstances surrounding my loss, previous life experience all inform how I face this challenge. There is no “right way” to grieve. As long as I am not harming myself or others, there’s only “my way” to grieve.

I am the same person, but I’ve also changed. I know you are trying to figure me out post-child loss. I’m trying to figure me out too. I didn’t get a how-to manual when I buried my son. Even six years into this journey I’m still finding ways in which I am profoundly changed. But I’m also still the same person that needs your friendship and longs for compassionate connection. It’s work for both of us but I don’t want to be alone in my grief.

Even when I’m OK, I’m still grieving. It’s normal for friends and family to look for signs I’m “better”. The early days of sobbing and unceasing pain do (usually) morph into a more gentle, quiet and manageable burden. But even when I’m laughing, participating and gathering new, joy-filled memories I’m grieving. My son’s absence is background music to every moment. I’m never free from the feeling he should be here but isn’t.

I may stay connected to my loved one in ways you don’t understand, but trust me, they’re normal. There are SO many ways hearts work hard to stay connected to their missing child! Dominic’s jacket is hung on a peg in our mudroom right where he left it the last time he was home. I see it every day and touch it often. There are other little mementos here and there that keep his presence part of daily life. I have tokens I carry in a pocket that help me take him with me. Other parents sleep with a favorite stuffed toy or their child’s pillow. Some make blankets of old t-shirts or clothing. It’s all normal.

Grief will visit every heart eventually.

If it hasn’t come to rest in yours yet, consider yourself blessed.

I’m sure you have at least one friend carrying this burden.

When you take time to try to understand even a little how they feel, you help them bear the load.

Seriously. Why Can’t I Keep My House Clean?

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.

Read the rest here: Why Can’t I Keep My House Clean? Grief and Everyday Responsiblities

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

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Child Loss

I’ve had awhile to think about this. Six years is a long time to live with loss, to live without the child I carried, raised and sent off in the world.

So I’ve considered carefully what my “top ten” might be.

Here’s MY list (yours might be very different):

There is absolutely no way to prepare your heart for the death of a child. I have always been an avid reader. Over the years I’ve read dozens of accounts both real and imagined centered around child loss. I’ve seen well-scripted movies and television shows depicting it as well. And, like many parents, I had my moments when I imagined what it might be like for one of my children to leave the house and not return. But nothing-NOTHINGI read, saw or imagined was remotely as devastating as the experience of child loss. In the space of a few words, a few seconds, a single awful door knock, my world was utterly and completely shattered. It’s really no wonder that it takes a lifetime to even begin to put the pieces together.

Most people are doing the best they can to respond to our pain. When Dominic first left us, I was a walking nerve. Anything someone said or didn’t say, a look, a social media post or dozens of other things provoked a reaction: “How could they!?” But eventually, when I was able to think more clearly I recognized they were wrapped in the same protective bubble of “hasn’t experienced child loss” I once enjoyed. How could I expect them to know what to say or do when truth is, I still (to this day) stumble over my tongue when confronted with a parent who joins our ranks. Now I try to receive even the most bumbling efforts as grace gifts offered in hope of encouraging my heart.

Grief lasts longer than sympathy. I’ve written before about the cost of compassion. It’s so much easier to send a card, send a meal, show up at the house or funeral than to walk beside someone for a month or year as they try to pick up and reassemble the fragments of a shattered heart and life. Grief is not the same as mourning. Mourning is a shorter period with lots of outward symbols and rituals that warn others of our broken hearts. Grief is the burden of loss, sorrow, missing and pain that is left behind after everyone else goes home. Grief is lonely.

The circle that will walk with you for the long haul is going to be smaller than you expect and will be comprised of some folks you’d never have imagined. We all have an image of which people will run toward us instead of running away should disaster strike. I did. And some of those folks were there. But others weren’t. After decades of pouring our time, energy, effort, love and lives into more than one church family, I was surprised at who showed up, who stayed away and who was willing to go the extra mile. Of course at the beginning there were hordes of folks and we were very appreciative. But one by one or in groups they quit calling, coming or even texting. The tiny band that has stuck it out is precious. I am so, so thankful for them.

Life goes on without our permission. At first, I just wanted the world to STOP. I wanted every single soul on this planet to realize-at least for a second-that my son was no longer among the living. But of course it didn’t. Not only did the world not stop, it seemed to race ahead. I’ve written before about our family’s busy, busy two months (Graduations and Weddings and Trips, Oh My!) after Dom ran ahead to Heaven. That was just the beginning. In the six years since he’s been gone, there have been all kinds of large and small crises that have rocked our world. I don’t have a pass to slip through my remaining years without trouble or trial.

Loss keeps happening and comes in many forms. Life is risky. If you dare to love, you risk loss. I made a decision early on that I would not cut myself off from those I love in hopes of saving my heart more sorrow. Friendships melt away under the burden of grief. Life circumstances change in unpleasant and unexpected ways. Health deteriorates. Loved ones die. I’ve experienced all these things in the last six years and will experience them until I join Dominic in Heaven. I won’t rail against every one as an injustice or act surprised.

Laughter and joy return if you make space for them. I remember the first time a small chuckle escaped my lips after Dominic left us. It felt like betrayal. How could I laugh when my heart was utterly shattered? Where did that come from? But I learned, over time, that laughing was not dishonoring my son. Laughter is a gift. It’s a way of knitting together some of those broken pieces. It’s a means of allowing light back into a darkened soul. I also learned that joy and sorrow are not opposing feelings. You don’t have to shove one aside to feel the other. You simply have to expand your heart to make room for both. But it IS a choice. I can refuse laughter, joy and light and hunker down with my sadness, sorrow and despair. I have to decide.

The missing never ends. You never reach a moment (as shared by many bereaved parents further along this path than me!) when you won’t miss your child. A parent’s heart carries his or her child as long as it’s still beating. It takes time to learn to live with the ache. It was several years before I could see past Dominic’s absence. When the family gathered the gaping hole where he SHOULD be but WASN’T filled my vision and made it hard to focus on who and what I still possessed. Over time the missing has grown softer. Now, missing Dominic is the background music to everything.  A quiet tune I hum in my head that keeps me company all day and invades my dreams at night. .

You will survive if you keep taking the next breath and making the next step. That first day when the house filled with people coming to support our family after the awful news, I kept asking the women sitting with me, “Am I breathing?”. It felt as if the breath had left my body when the life-shattering words fell on my ears and I couldn’t get it back. But I soon learned that broken hearts still beat. The first anniversary of his death I was horrified to realize I had survived 365 days when I was certain I wouldn’t survive the first 24 hours. Grief  is work. But if you choose to face the feelings, spend time dealing with them and allow your heart space and grace to begin putting the pieces back together you will make progress. I have. It has often been slower and more painstaking than I like, but it’s happened.

I’m still learning.

Almost every day I find another place grief is changing my life, my family’s life and my heart ever so slightly. In a few more years this list may be different.

For now, it’s my top ten.

I hope it helps another parent who might be wondering what to expect in this Life [We] Didn’t Choose.

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.