My Three Sons

My three sons–I still have three you know.

Two that travel the earth with me and one that dwells with Jesus.

My soul expanded with each birth–like pants stretched to make room for inches gained and there is no going back.

My heart will always bear the stretchmarks of my love.

LORD, I cannot thank You for allowing my son to be taken–I can thank You for Who You are and for not leaving me alone in my grief.

I won’t overlook the beauty in a sunrise, the gift of laughter or the welcome warmth of loving hugs.

I won’t allow bitterness to strip my life of kindness and compassion.  I will try to embrace the pain and let it work Your purpose in my heart.

When I can’t fight the battle myself, I will rest in the arms of the One Who fights for me.

 God is a safe place to hide,
    ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains.

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

Psalm 46:1-3 MSG

 

 

Navigating Grief for Those Who Have Lost a Child

With GPS apps on our phones and in our cars, getting lost in the physical world is becoming ever more rare.

But grief is disorienting and every day I must relearn which way is true north.

It has never bothered me to ask directions.  I’ll pull off in a heartbeat–ask a stranger–stop a mailman–look for a fire station (they have to know all the addresses of their district).  I’m not shy and I’m not proud.

But as a bereaved mother,  I’ve struggled to find a map, or guide or landmarks that can help me navigate this wilderness called grief.

Twenty months down this path, here are some practical ways I’ve discovered to help me get through this unmarked world.

It is hard to concentrate so I have learned to break tasks up into smaller units.  I might only clean the bathroom sink and then move on to something else, coming back later to do the tub or mirrors.

I have trouble remembering EVERYTHING so important things like my phone and keys ALWAYS go in the same place.  My purse has designated pockets for specific items and I hold onto my keys when I get out of my truck so I don’t lock them inside.

Going to the store can be very challenging with all the noise, distractions and people (and the memories of his favorite foods).  Even if I’m only shopping for a few groceries, I make a list.

Keeping track of things like phone calls, gifts or thank you notes is also difficult. I use an inexpensive spiral notebook that lives on the kitchen table to write down numbers, notes or anything I need to remember.  I staple receipts to a page so that I won’t lose them.

I use a pocket calendar to note appointments, family schedules or important dates.  I don’t agree to or change anything until I have it in front of me.

I have learned to ask people to repeat things that I’m not sure I understand. Sometimes it seems as if folks around me are speaking a foreign language because my brain simply won’t process the words.

I don’t apologize for my tears or for my need to give myself space and time to make a decision when asked to do something. 

Grieving requires so much emotional, physical and mental energy that there is little left for everyday tasks.  But life goes on even if I want it to stop.

This is who I am now, and I will need to make accomodations for that as long as I live.

 

 

 

When The Last Fingerprint Fades Away

Dominic was always working on his car.

During one weekend session, something went wrong and he came storming through the garage.

He slammed both hands hard on my extra pantry, crashing one mason jar full of tomatoes into the other, making a mess and leaving greasy hand prints on the white melamine doors.

I waited until he made his way into the house and upstairs then went to assess the damage-tomatoes dripping everywhere, glass on the floor and hand prints in several places.

I cleaned the tomatoes and glass and gave a swipe at the doors. But those marks of my son’s temper remained for months. I finally found a mixture that got most of it off so only faint reminders were left.

After Dominic was killed, I went to the garage and put my fingers one by one into what was still there of his hand print.

It made me feel closer to him, like there was a little of his life left that I could touch.

Today I was thinking-what will I do when the last fingerprint fades away?

What will I cling to that can make him real to me again?

I know he has only left this earthly tent and the real Dominic is with Jesus, but I’m still stuck in the physical world, longing for physical connection.

A mama’s arms are made for holding her children, not for holding their memories.

This is the greatest challenge I face in my grief–not blaming God or even dealing with the pain–it’s the need to touch my children and knowing now one is beyond my reach until I join him in heaven.

[King David said] “Could I bring the child back to life? I will some day go to where he is, but he can never come back to me.”  2 Samuel 12:23b GNT

What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

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.

It isn’t nostalgia for a time when things were different or better or you talked more: it’s a gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, knee-buckling, aching groan that lives inside you begging to be released.

There is no smooth transition up the ladder of grief recovery so that you emerge at the top, better for the experience and able to put it behind you.

We’ve all heard the much touted theory that grief proceeds in the following stages:

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

And people (who haven’t experienced grief) tend to think it’s a straight line from one stage to another, gradually going from bottom to top and then on with life.

But it just isn’t true.

Reality is, these “stages” coexist and fluctuate back and forth from day to day and even hour to hour.

Grief remakes you from the inside out.

Losing a child has made me rethink everything I believe and everything I am.  It has changed and is changing my relationship with myself and with others in ways I couldn’t imagine and often don’t anticipate.

And it is hard, hard work.

Life around us doesn’t stop.  Grieving parents return to work, continue to nurture their surviving children, keep getting up in the morning and taking care of daily details.

We are doing all the things others do, but we are doing them with an added weight of sorrow and pain that makes each step feel like wading through quicksand.

We want you to know we are doing the best we can.

Life without my child is like having a leg amputated–I am forced to learn to manage without it, but everything will always be harder and different.

And it will be this way for the rest of my life.

The one thing a grieving parent DOESN’T want you to know is how it feels to bury your child.

I don’t want anyone else to know what it means to leave part of your heart and a chunk of your life beneath the ground.

“But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as a comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff   LAMENT FOR A SON

Tell Me Your Story

One of my greatest fears is that Dominic will be forgotten.

If I ever speak it out loud, people are quick to assure me that he will always be remembered. But I know it isn’t true–unless others allow me to tell my story.

Not the Reader’s Digest condensed version–but the full length director’s cut–the one that takes time to tell and time to hear.

Because the farther away I get from the last living memory of him, the harder it is to think of him in the present tense.  And I know if that’s true for me, his mother, it must be doubly true for others.

We buy tickets to movies, purchase books and cruise the Internet gobbling up other people’s stories.  Yet we often make it difficult for those we know to tell us theirs.

We jockey for attention at gatherings, or worse, give all our attention to electronic devices.  We think we KNOW other people’s stories so we don’t want to bore ourselves with listening again.

The truth is, we know less than we think about the folks we rub shoulders with every day.

Invite others to tell their stories–not just the grieving, but the elderly, the quiet ones in the corner, or the neighbor you’ve only seen from across the way.

Take some cookies, put away your phone and just listen.

(And feel free to share in the comments section too–I’d love to know YOUR story…)

 

 

 

 

 

Praying Through the Pain

For most of my adult years I felt like I had a robust prayer life.  I regularly interceded for my family, for my church, for missionaries and for the world. I’ve kept a prayer journal for over twenty years.  

I felt connected to the God of the Universe.  

But when Dominic died I felt like I lost that connection.

Of course, the first moments after hearing the news I screamed, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” My foxhole prayer for divine intervention–make it stop; make it untrue; make it go away…

But it was true.  It didn’t stop.  And it hasn’t gone away.

As the reality of what happened sank in, I searched my heart for why.

Why did MY son die?  What fault had God found in me that wasn’t covered by the blood of Jesus and demanded my son’s life as payment? Why were people who caused death and destruction and spread hatred and strife still walking around?

Did I, whose son died, pray less fervently or with less faith than the mother whose son lives?

So many people think that “good” Christians don’t ask, “why?” But I can’t find a compelling scriptural argument that supports this view.

The Psalmist asked, “Why?”

He often recited a litany of complaints that included his perception that God had abandoned him.  But there is a turning point when the Psalmist focuses his heart and mind on the truth that:

God is sovereign;

God is faithful;

And God’s love endures forever.

I am thankful that before Dominic died I had a habit of praying and reading Scripture.  I am thankful for the many verses that are so ingrained in my thoughts that they come, unbidden to my mind.

So I have continued to pray each morning, opening my journal and my Bible.

Even when I cannot feel the connection, I know God is there.  

And by an act of will and in obedience, I turn my heart and my mind to acknowledge His sovereignty.

To trust His faithfulness.

And to run for safety to His enduring love.  

 As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. Where can I find him to come and stand before him? Day and night I weep for his help, and all the while my enemies taunt me. “Where is this God of yours?” they scoff.

Take courage, my soul! Do you remember those times (but how could you ever forget them!) when you led a great procession to the Temple on festival days, singing with joy, praising the Lord? Why then be downcast? Why be discouraged and sad? Hope in God! I shall yet praise him again. Yes, I shall again praise him for his help.

Yet I am standing here depressed and gloomy, but I will meditate upon your kindness to this lovely land where the Jordan River flows and where Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar stand. All your waves and billows have gone over me, and floods of sorrow pour upon me like a thundering cataract.

Yet day by day the Lord also pours out his steadfast love upon me, and through the night I sing his songs and pray to God who gives me life.

Psalm 42: 1-8 TLB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testimony of Hope

No way around it–this goat is ugly.  He was born a runt and never outgrew it.

But he’s my favorite.

Several years ago he was attacked by dogs.  One had him by the ear (thus his missing ear) and one had him by the hindquarters. Only my youngest son’s swift barefoot run through the woods saved him from being killed. Julian carried him out, mangled and bloody.

We spent weeks cleaning and treating his wounds and months nursing him back to health.

He has no monetary value–in fact he’s cost me a good deal.  But I love him because he is a testimony of hope.  

He lives in spite of his scars.

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I’m meeting others who have buried their children too.

And it is so, so hard.

But these mamas are so, so brave.

And they are clinging with all their might to the hand of the One Who has promised to redeem this pain and these wounds.

I can’t tell you that anything “good” has come from my son’s death–at least nothing that couldn’t have come from his life.

But I can tell you that what the enemy intended to use to destroy me and my family has not done that.

I am hurt and I bear scars.

But the Shepherd of my soul has carried me and is carrying me.

I will continue to trust in Him and offer my life as a testimony of hope.

 

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relational Acts of Kindness

I have two very special friends.

After Dominic died and the meals and visits and cards had dwindled and the silence and heartbreak had become oh-so-overwhelming, they came out to spend the day with me.

The whole day.

With me.

With this crying, couldn’t hold it together, didn’t know what to say mama who had buried her son just weeks ago.

They brought lunch.  And let me talk–or not. They didn’t try to fix me, didn’t offer platitudes or Bible verses to smooth things over when conversation lagged.  They hugged me and listened.

And they have been doing this every few weeks since.

It costs them a whole day and it’s 60 miles each way–but they keep coming and keep lifting me up so that grief and sorrow don’t drown me.

This time of year social networks buzz with posts and tweets and Instagrams of “random acts of kindness”.  That’s a good thing.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, those are easy.

We pick a stranger, discern a way to help (maybe paying for a meal or a coffee) and then both walk away feeling warm and fuzzy. No relationship, no commitment.

Relational Acts of Kindness are much harder.

We can’t just do our thing and leave.  Our hearts and resources are going to get tangled up with theirs.

It might get expensive.

That’s what my friends did.  They leaned into relationship with me even though it was messy, and hard, and costly.

So my challenge to you is this:  who do you know that could use a relational act of kindness?  A neighbor?  A distant relative? Someone who sits alone in a pew?

There is no greater kindness than coming alongside someone at just the moment they feel their strength is gone.

I know that without these friends I would not be able to bear my grief nearly so well.  I pray that God will bless them abundantly as they have been a blessing to me.

“Help carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.”  

~Galatians 6:2 GNT

 

 

Messy Christmas

The Christmas story is a messy one.

An unmarried mother, a hurried and hushed wedding (you know they HAD to get married, don’t you!).

Life is messy.

It rarely fits into the tidy boxes we create for our convenience.

My grief has taught me that really, we are all a mess.

Some of us are better at hiding it but I’ve learned that sharing my own brokenness invites others to do the same.

Losing a child opened my heart as never before to the broken and wounded and ignored of the earth.

And isn’t that really the message of Christmasthat the Almighty God Who is unapproachable in His holiness, comes to us as the Babe in the manger–inviting us to draw near in our brokenness and receive grace, mercy and love?

Maybe the best way to honor the Son of God leaving the glorious perfection of heaven to enter the world in poverty and dependence is not creating lovely tablescapes and piling packages under a decorated tree.

Maybe the best way to honor Christ’s birth is to open our hearts and homes

to the outcast,

the lowly,

and the disregarded.

Everlasting Father

We live in a throwaway society.

Cups, cans, plates and people.   Too often we toss friendships when they become inconvenient, uncomfortable or require more energy than we are willing to give.

Adults trade partners in a frenzied search for happiness and fulfillment and leave children’s hearts in the wreckage as families are ripped apart.

So it’s no surprise that many people find it difficult to believe in a Heavenly Father that is good, and loving and everlasting.

But God is just that:

He is an Everlasting Father.

A Faithful Father.  

A Father whose enduring love lasts FOREVER. 

 Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present andthreatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35, 38-39

My mother love is fierce.  But it was not strong enough to keep my child from the grave.

How much greater is the Father’s love that NOTHING can separate us from it?

What fills my heart and soul with hope and gives me strength to bear this great grief is unshakeable confidence that my son is safe in the eternal arms of my Everlasting Father.