Countdown to Christmas

Here in the last days before Christmas, the darkest days of the year, my grieving heart longs for light.

In some ways the busy-ness of the holiday season pushes the pain of missing my son to the background–a mind can only entertain so many ideas at one time.

But the activity and constant barrage of demands and conversations exhausts me and makes me more vulnerable to the moments when grief rolls full force over my soul like an ocean wave.

I am more sensitive to the chasm between me and those who have not buried a child.  

More sensitive to the fact that the world continues to spin, parties are planned, songs are sung and Dominic isn’t here for any of it.

I want to find a way to mark his absence, to include him in conversation, to make sure he isn’t forgotten.

I am so very thankful for the family that surrounds me at Christmas, and want them to know how much I cherish the moments we are together and how fiercely I love them.

But my heart is divided.  

Part of me is “here” and part of me is “there”.  I walk in two worlds–on earth and in heaven.  I savor the sweet joy of the “now” but ache for the even sweeter joy of the “forever”.

So I sing all four verses of the Christmas hymns–not just the ones that speak of Jesus’ birth, but the verses that tell of His return.

I celebrate His coming, but I long for His coming again.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

~It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

 

 

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