Grief and Grace:What I Need from Friends and Family

You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.

You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall.  He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.

He never made it home.

So when I come out of the room red-eyed, teary and quiet, please don’t look at me like I’m a freak.

Please don’t corner me and ask, “What’s wrong?” Or worse-please, please, please don’t suggest I should be “over it by now”.

If you were reading a novel or watching a movie, you’d show more grace.

You would nod in understanding as the main character made choices that reflected the pain of his past.  You would find his behavior perfectly predictable in the context of a life lived with a broken heart.

I can’t control what makes me cry.  I can’t stop the memories flooding my mind or the pain seizing my heart.

I might be OK one minute and the next a blubbering mess. Grief doesn’t mind a schedule.

But there are some things you can do to help:

  • If you are aware of the circumstances around my child’s death, be thoughtful when highlighting similar situations in conversation, in movie choice, in recommending books or news stories.  I bump into reminders all the time, I don’t need to have them forced upon me.
  • It can be particularly hard to celebrate milestones in another child’s life when that child is about the same age as the one I buried.  Feel free to invite me, but give grace if I choose not to attend a birthday, graduation or wedding.  I’m doing the best I can and I don’t want to detract from the celebration so sometimes I bow out.
  • Ask me if, or how,  I would like my missing child included in family gatherings. Sometimes I want his memory highlighted and sometimes I want to hold it close like a personal treasure.  It might be different one year to the next. Just ask.
  • Be sensitive to the calendar.  Make a note of my child’s birthday, heaven day, date of the funeral or memorial service-these are important dates for me and they will be as long as I live.  In the first months, maybe for years, each month is a reminder that I am that much further from the last time I heard his voice, hugged his neck or saw his living face.  Those days are especially hard.
  • Don’t pressure me to move faster in my grief journey.  And don’t interpret a single encounter as the measure of how I’m doing.  Be aware that it is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of experience.  It is MY experience and will go as fast or as slow as it does.  I can’t even hurry it along even though sometimes I am desperate to do so.
  • Understand that the things I may share don’t paint a total picture.  There are pains too deep, thoughts too tortuous, experiences surrounding my son’s death and burial too hurtful for me to speak aloud.

I admit that I never thought of any of these things until it was MY son missing.

But now I think about them all the timenot only for my sake, but for the sake of others like me. I try to walk gently and kindly, extending grace and love.

And honestly, that’s really all I want from anyone else-grace, abundant grace.

I will be weepy when it’s inconvenient.  I will react when you can’t fathom why.  I will stay away when you want me to come near.  I will make choices you don’t understand.

I am truly sorry.

But child loss is not something I chose for myself, it was thrust upon me.

I am walking this path the best I know how.

When you extend grace and love me through the roughest places it makes all the difference.

heart and wood

Do Good, Be Light, Extend Hope

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

James 2:14-17 MSG

James doesn’t mess around.

He says what a lot of people are thinking but are too timid to speak aloud.

I like that.

We could use a good dose of his brand of preaching in the church today.  Let’s stop pretending that following Jesus is just about getting our theology right.  Let’s stop acting like going to church, serving on committees or teaching Sunday School is the best indicator of where my heart is relative to my Savior.

Let’s face facts:  if my life does not look different than the lives of those who do not know Jesus, then either I don’t know Him or I’m not paying attention to what He’s telling me to do.

I have been blessed on this grief journey by a few dedicated friends who go out of their way to do good, be light and extend hope to my heart when I’m barely holding on.  They have chosen, often sacrificially, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in my life.

And they make a difference!

Sometimes it’s a card in the mail, sometimes a text or message and sometimes a visit-but they DO something.  They might not understand why God is putting me on their heart, but they obey the prompting.

So if the Spirit is nudging you to reach out to someone, don’t ignore Him or put it off. Sure, praying is important.  We are commanded to do that.

But we are also commanded to be physically present and to extend practical help to hurting hearts.  We are supposed to BE the hands and feet of Jesus.

Who knows, I might be the answer to my own prayer that God send encouragement to someone else.

I can choose to do good.

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I can choose to shine light.

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I can choose to share hope.

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And my small gesture be the very thread that holds a broken heart together.  

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17 NIV

 

 

Courage is a Heart Word

Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad.

~Brene Brown

I grew up in the Deep South where ladies were supposed to keep silent about anything “unmentionable”.

Problem is, that included many things that SHOULD be spoken aloud.

Because a conspiracy of silence forces those who are suffering to hide.  It creates huge gaps between what goes on behind closed doors and public image.

And it causes those who are wounded to question the authenticity of their own experience.

In recent years we have dragged many topics into the light.  We’ve made space in the public square for discussion of things we used to pretend didn’t exist.

But life after child loss is still a hushed topic.

The long road to healing after burying a child is rarely acknowledged outside the community of bereaved parents.

The FACT that as long as I live, my son’s absence will be a shadow trailing me, the burden of sorrow will slow my steps, the heartache of missing will shape my world is glossed over and set aside.

I understand why.

It is scary to speak aloud what you hope will never happen to you.  It’s unbelievably frightening to admit that we really have no control over whether, or when, we or the ones we love might leave this world.

But I am not going to keep silent.

Not because I want pity or special treatment, but because I want that parent who just buried his or her child to know that you. are. not. alone.

I want you to know that what you are experiencing is not unusual.

I want you to understand that the horrible pain you feel is absolutely normal.

And I want you to be assured that you are NOT Crazy!

I will tell my story because even though it is hard, it matters.  And even though it hurts, it can help heal another.  And even though it isn’t finished, it can blaze a trail for others to follow.

Join me, be BRAVE, tell yours.

 

 

It Takes a Lifetime

I was reminded once again this week how the events surrounding death and burial are inadequate indicators of the profound change that has taken place in the lives of those left behind.

Standing at the graveside of a precious friend’s father, I remembered watching Dominic’s earthly shell lowered beneath the ground.

I was wholly unprepared for the days and weeks and months that followed.

No one had told me it was only a beginningLoving Well: Transitioning From “Good-bye” to Grief

 

 

 

Move Over, Make Room for the Broken

I used to position myself at the end of the pew, just in case someone I’m not too comfortable with might come along and try to sit down.

It saved us both that awkward conversation where they ask if they can join me and I say “yes” with my mouth but “no” with my body language.

Frankly, I was at church to be lifted up so I could face the coming week with power and strength. I didn’t want to be dragged down by their reality of brokenness and sometimes bitter tears.

I don’t do that anymore.

I realize that most of what made me uncomfortable was other people’s pain.

Now I’m the one who’s broken.  I’m the one who can’t get through “Amazing Grace” without blubbering.

And I’m the one that others hope won’t ask to join THEM.

But here’s the deal:  God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

When I refuse to move over and make room for the broken, I’m barring the way for the very ones who most desperately need the blessing.  When I want my worship experience to exclude those who haven’t the strength to bring their own hearts before the throne of grace, I’m being selfish.  

And that is sin.

Jesus went out of His way to heal the hurting,

to bless the broken and

to speak strength to the weary.

So now I sit in the middle of the pew and leave room for whoever God brings my way.

I want to be an open door, not a gatekeeper.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~Jesus

(Matthew 11:28-30 PHILLIPS)

Thanks for Listening!

One year ago today I began sharing my grief journey publicly on this blog.

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You can read that first post here.

 

It was (and still is) scary to expose my thoughts and feelings to a wider audience than just the pages of my personal journal.

I’m never certain that what is helpful for me is necessarily helpful for anyone else.  But in writing it down I find that I am able to sort through things better than when I leave it bouncing around in my own head space.

I decided upfront that I would be as honest as possible about what I felt and how I was coping.  I wasn’t sure if I would post only a few times or a lot, if it would turn into a day-by-day diary or a more sweeping revelation of deeper things.

I think it’s kind of been both at times.

And here we are, 366 days (it was a leap year) and  355 posts later and I’m still here and you’re still listening.

I don’t claim to have any special gifting or knowledge or ability.  I am simply one mama whose love for both her child in heaven and her children still here demands that I speak out.

My heart is full of  love and pain.

thank you

And my heart has been blessed beyond measure by those who read and share what I have written.  I’ve met-in person and virtually-many bereaved parents who are helping me as I continue down this road.

I am so very thankful for each one.

I pray that for those who read these words and know the pain of burying a child, I am speaking things you may think or feel but are not willing or able to express.

And I pray that in hearing them spoken aloud, you are affirmed and encouraged that you. are. not. alone.

Dominic matters.  

Your child matters.  

It’s not only OK but absolutely necessary to admit that life after child loss is a struggle.  It is also just fine to take your time working through the pain and sorrow and overwhelming changes child loss brings.

For those who read my posts and do not share this pain, I pray you gain insight into what bereaved parents feel and how burying a child changes EVERYTHING.

I hope you are better equipped to offer the ongoing support we need and crave.  I hope you learn that this is not something we have chosen, it is something that happened to us. 

And I pray that all of us will be more willing to extend grace, mercy and love to one another.

Words are not neutral.  

They bring life or death.

They wound or heal.

May each of us be an instrument of healing for someone’s hurting heart.   

its hurting again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve

There are twelve tribes and twelve disciples.

Twelve stones in the High Priest’s breastplate.

Twelve months in the year.

For those who study these things, the number twelve in Scripture signifies “perfection” or “authority”.

It is also considered the number of completeness.

It was twelve days into April that Dominic completed his earthly sojourn and began his life in Heaven with Jesus.

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While from my perspective his life was cut short, from God’s it was finished.  The days ordained for my son before he was born had been completed.  The work He had prepared beforehand for him to do was through.

I don’t like it.  

But I receive it because it passed through the hands of my Father.

I can’t open my heart to love and close it to grief-so I’ll hold them both until I hold Dominic again.

Image result for all your days are ordained