Helping My Children Walk Through Grief

Bereaved parents often have several tasks before them in the days and months and years following the death of a child.  And one of them is to help their surviving children navigate loss.

I have three earthbound children.  And they are grieving.

Their world changed in the same instant mine did.  Their hearts are broken too.

I found it hard to watch the pain I saw written on the faces of my kids.  Harder still to know that as much as I wanted to be the guide in this situation, I was as lost as they were. My mama instincts demanded that I “make it better” -but I was and am, powerless to do that.

So I settled on being honest.

I decided that I wouldn’t hide my sorrow or my struggle in an attempt to protect them.

Because, really, how could I protect a heart that had been introduced so forcefully to the truth that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL?

How could I try to manage their sorrow when mine was overflowing?

I acknowledged the pain-the pain of losing Dominic;  the pain of not being able to say, “good-bye”; the pain of never knowing exactly what had happened; the pain of feeling like God had closed His eyes or looked the other way while Dominic ran off the road; and the pain of watching each other in pain with no way to soothe or stop it.

I didn’t draw boundaries around how they were supposed to behave.  

I asked that we not hurt one another in our sorrow-that we not cast blame, that we not lash out-but other than this request, I made room for tears, shouts, pounding of fists or whatever else we needed to do to let out some of the emotion bottled up inside.

I do not insist that they give Sunday School answers to tough questions.  I understand that they are struggling as much as I am. We are all dissecting our faith and our understanding of Who God is, what He is doing, and whether we can trust Him with our hearts again.

We talk-about Dominic and about their lives.  I try to listen.  Sometimes I’m not as good at that as I would hope to be.

I respect their need for space or their need for companionship.  I haven’t tried to be the sole source of support for any of them.

I’m not offended if they choose to express grief in ways that are different than my own.

I am well aware that it is likely they will carry this loss for more years than I will and that they must find their own way to bear that burden.

They haven’t only lost a brother, they’ve also lost the family in which they grew up, the parents they used to have and the sense of safety that pervades childhood.  

Their eyes are opened to the fact that bad things happen.

And sometimes bad things happen with no apparent reason and absolutely no forewarning.

We love one another.  We acknowledge the impact Dom’s life and his leaving has left on us. We don’t sweat the small stuff (most of the time).

And we focus on making sure each one of us makes it through.

Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.

David Ogden Stiers

 

Guiding Light

Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.”

John 8:12 MSG

He didn’t say that there would be no darkness.

He didn’t promise that night would never come.

Instead, He declared that those who follow Him would have a guiding light. That those who look to the Good Shepherd won’t get lost, because He will lead the way.

Even though I am now two years into this grief journey, there are still sleepless nights. And as I lie in bed, remembering Dominic, rehearsing the events surrounding his accident, feeling the pain and longing for relief-it is the trustworthy lamp of Christ’s Presence and the eternal truth of His Word that sheds light on my path.

A Single Candle

The Cost of Conquest

The Bible says that in Christ, I am more than a conqueror.

Yet amid all these things we are more than conquerors and gain a surpassing victory through Him Who loved us.

Romans 8: 37 AMPC

I don’t feel like a conqueror.  I feel like a fighter.

I don’t feel like a victor.  I feel like someone in the midst of battle.

I was considering that when this thought came to mind:

“Conquerors have been in battle. Conquerors bear scars.   

Conquerors win, but it costs them something.”

I want to picture the victorious Christian life clean, simple, no wounds, no scars.

But victory cost Jesus everything.

He not only give up His life, He was beaten, mocked, humiliated, paraded in the street for all to see and condemned to the cross.

He bore the physical pain.

He bore the emotional and psychological pain.

And then He bore the most dreadful pain-the pain that only HE could bear-the pain of the just wrath of His Father in Heaven poured out on Him in payment for the sins of the world.

He rose, after three days in the grave.

And He had scars.  

His scars bore witness to His pain and suffering, but also to His victory.

Burying my son was painful.  Living each day carrying his memory and the sorrow of missing him is hard.  My life has been turned upside down and inside out.

I am weary and I bear scars.

But I refuse to be overcome by what I know in my heart is a temporary separation.

I will claw my way each day out of the pit of despair and drag myself into the light of the promises of God’s Word.

One day I will stand with the redeemed, my scars bearing witness to Christ’s victory over death and pain and every single thing that tried to separate me from His love:

So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing. 36 As the psalm says,

On Your behalf, our lives are endangered constantly;
    we are like sheep awaiting slaughter.

But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39 VOICE

 

What I Want You to Know About My Grief

I am so very thankful I live in a country where the vast majority of parents do not know what it’s like to bury a child.

I am part of a relatively small group.  Bereaved parents make up a tiny segment of the population.

It’s possible that you may never be close friends with someone who has lost a child.

And because death and dying are unpopular subjects, and because grieving parents can become very good at hiding the pain, even if you DO meet someone whose child has died, they may never tell you about it.

So, so many of the friends I have made on this journey live each day bearing the weight of grief AND the heavy burden of being misunderstood-at work, in church, even in their own extended families.

One of the first posts I wrote was born out of this angst-birthed in pain as I realized that even well-meaning friends and family members who have not experienced child loss really don’t have any idea how it feels :

People say, “I can’t imagine.

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

Read the rest: What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

 

Waiting on Sunrise

I realize that some people reading this can’t imagine a scenario where Google Maps won’t guide them to the nearest Starbucks.

But I’m old enough to remember when paper maps were all we had, cell phones were science fiction and Interstate exit signs didn’t include helpful footnotes to tell you what restaurants and gas stations were just beyond the tree line.

Even further back in time, people traveled with only the sun and stars to mark their progress.

The rising sun was a sure and faithful witness to which way was east.

Every morning a wise traveller took note of where they had been and made sure that they were headed in the right direction to get where they wanted to go.

Grief often feels like I’ve been picked up by a whirlwind and deposited in a country with no familiar landmarks and all the signposts are in another language.

If I try to depend on my own sense of direction, I’m condemned to walk in circles, wind up lost and never find my bearings.  I will not be able to point myself toward home.  .

For my hurting heart, God’s Word is my morning sun.

I orient my thoughts to His truth and walk on, even when I’m unsure of the road, because I can trust His promises.

Each day, I shake off slumber, open my eyes and look for the infallible Guide that can lead me in the right direction.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and with hope I wait for his word.
     My soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6 GW

 

 

 

Slow Fade

It would be easier, in a way, if it happened all at once.

If the vivid memories of his voice, his laugh, his body language, his sense of humor just disappeared-POOF!-now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t. Then I could make a single adjustment.

But that’s not how it is.  Instead, the living proof of his existence recedes like a wave from the shoreline, only there’s no returning surge to remind me of the force that was Dominic.

Each new day marks one more rotation of the earth, one more sunrise and sunset that places me further from the last time I saw him, the last time I heard his voice, the last time I hugged his neck.

And there is no cure for time marching on.  There is no “pause” button that I can push to let me catch my breath and allow my heart to comprehend the reality my body and mind must embrace.

Small mementos that are insignificant to those around me crumble to dust between my fingers.  Eventually I’m forced to sweep them up and put them away forever.

His friends find jobs, get married, have children-wonderful life events, things I celebrate with them-but they also remind me that he will never do those things.  I will never hold his child, relieved the labor is over, thrilled to see his eyes or nose in a tiny face looking back at me.

The subtle and constant change keeps me off-balance.  As soon as I think I have found my footing on this new plateau of loss, the earth moves beneath me and I’m stumbling once again.  

I came across this quote not long after Dominic left us.  When I first read it, I didn’t really understand.

But now I do.

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”

John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

 

 

Learning to Grieve With Hope

One of the things I am learning in this journey of child loss is that while I can work hard to frame my experience through the Truth of Scripture, I cannot deny my feelings.

I cling to and copy down and recite Bible verses on a daily basis.  I feed my heart and soul and spirit with heavenly manna and trust that it will sustain me.

But if I ignore or distract myself from acknowledging the feelings raging within me, I am only delaying an inevitable confrontation-they will not be put aside forever.

Paul didn’t say, “don’t grieve”.  He said, “grieve with hope”.

Hope gives me something to hold onto. Hope gives me courage to keep going.  Hope grants me vision so I can look forward to a time when pain will end.

But it does not end the pain.  It does not remove the ache of longing.  It does not erase the sorrow.

Read more:  Grieving With Hope