Solitude or Isolation? Which is it?

I’ve always loved my alone time.

As an introvert (who can, if pressed pretend not to be!) my energy is restored when I interact with one or two folks or no one at all.  A dream afternoon is writing while listening to nothing louder than the wind chimes outside my door.

I treasure solitude.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I find I need even more alone time than before.

That quiet place is where I do my most effective grief work, undisturbed by interruptions and distractions.

But I need to be careful that solitude doesn’t shift into isolation. 

I have to remind my heart that spending time with others keeps me from falling so deeply down the well of despair that all I see is darkness.

I need human interaction to keep me connected to a world that, quite frankly, I might sometimes just as soon leave behind.

So how can I tell the difference between solitude and isolation?

Here are a few questions that help me figure that out:

  • Do I feel lonely, neglected or abandoned? If my alone time feels less like a gift and more like an unwelcome burden then it may be isolation rather than solitude.
  • Where are my thoughts taking me? Being alone is often the only way to “hear” my own thoughts without having to block out the noise and activity of other people. If I am sitting with myself, processing hard things or even beautiful things, resolving internal conflict, conjuring new ways to deal with difficult relationships or situations then solitude is doing its work. If, instead, I find my mind tangled up in fearful knots, filled with negative self-talk or unable to break a downward spiral into despair then I probably need to find someone to talk to.
  • Am I getting stronger or being drained? After the holidays or other hectic seasons I need time alone to recharge my batteries. Often it is almost a day-for-day exchange. I can feel tension melting away and strength returning. My mind begins to clear and life doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Solitude grants space for my body, mind and soul to be refreshed. When it slides into isolation I can feel the shift. Instead of waking refreshed and eager to greet a free day, I wake to dreading another long one alone. Instead of energy rising in my spirit, I can feel it draining away. Instead of thinking kindly of friends and family who choose to leave me be, I’m resentful no one has checked up on me.
  • Is there a helpful rhythm to my days alone or am I counting the hours until sundown? When I’m enjoying solitude, the hours feel like a welcome opportunity to do things (or not do things!) at my own pace and according to my own preferences. I sit with pen in hand and jot down a list knowing that if I complete it or if I don’t the only person I have to answer to is myself. No pressing appointments and no worrisome commitments. When I’m isolating, the hours feel like a long march through deep mud-every step tedious, treacherous and exhausting. I’m alone but I’m not getting any benefit from it. If I’m enduring instead of enjoying then I’m isolating.
  • Do I have an endpoint in mind? When I look ahead at a week on my calendar, I try to balance alone time with social commitments. A day or two alone (or with limited human interaction) is solitude. A week holed up in the house is isolation. If I find myself pushing off needed outings (to the grocery store, to run errands) then I ask myself, “why?”. Often it’s because I’ve drifted from solitude (helpful alone time) to isolation (unhelpful hiding).

I can shift myself out of isolation by choosing just one small social interaction.

I might text or message a friend, go to the grocery store and make a point of speaking to the clerk, call someone or show up at a church or community event even if I sit in the back and slip out early.

I’m never going to be that person who is up for every outing. That’s just not how I’m made and child loss has intensified my need for solitude.

But I don’t want to be alone and lonely, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of my own making.

Some days it’s harder than others.

But I keep trying.

How A Phone Call a Day [Almost] Keeps the Panic Away

A few days ago I wrote about how panic is always just a breath away for those of us who have suffered loss.  

Like a friend of mine recently said, “We are branded.  GRIEF is burned into our hearts and we are never the same.”

So how to live this altered life?  

How can I manage that emotional tension that saps energy and strength from my heart, mind and body?

Our family has adopted some practical protocols that help.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/08/practical-protocols-to-mitigate-panic-after-loss/

But Wait! Today Only!

How many of us have been wrangled into buying something by advertisements that convince us if we don’t get it now we will miss our opportunity to get it at all?

Every hand raised?

Yep. Me too. And then I see the same item the next week at the same price and realize I was duped.

It works because humans are wired to respond to urgency.

Image result for But Wait! Today only image

Problem is, we don’t always recognize the truly urgent.

In fact, we often overlook it in favor of the easy or shiny or fun or inconsequential.

We piddle away our lives on screens and in cars and listening to the latest gossip about celebrities or politicians we will never meet all while ignoring the people we love or should be learning to love.

There are so many opportunities that truly ARE “today only!”. So many moments that will come once in a lifetime and never again.

People cross our path and we miss them because we are looking down at our phone. Kids beg for attention while Mom or Dad are watching TV. Spouses long for connection but can’t find it because each one has created his or her own virtual world and forgotten how to reach across the sofa and take a hand.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

Waking up to the news that one of my children would never, ever cross my doorstep again changed my perspective.

Dominic was a very busy law student. But the things people remembered about him and spoke about at his funeral weren’t associated with school. They were testimonies of how he went out of his way to do things for his friends.

I’m learning to listen to what’s truly urgent and not be drawn in by flashy lures to waste my day on unimportant things. I’m learning to use the time I have for what matters.

Every single day can be spent only once.

Unlike merchandise that can be returned, money refunded and used again, the twenty-four hours from sunrise to sunrise is unique, never to be repeated.

I want to spend it wisely.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well. 

Diane Ackerman

Broken Legs, Broken Hearts, Broken Lives

Sometimes I’m envious of folks hobbling along in those plastic boots designed to support an injured leg or ankle and aid healing.

Not because of the injuryI’m thankful I’ve never broken a bone-but because it’s an outward warning to anyone who might otherwise be impatient or insensitive that they just can’t go any faster.

I think there ought to be some kind of t-shirt, pin or banner that gives the same kind of warning for those of us walking around with broken hearts and broken lives.

But there isn’t.

Except for the first shell-shocked days immediately following Dominic’s death, I look pretty much the same as I always have.

Most of us do.

If you lined up a hundred parents and scattered ten in the group who had suffered child loss, very few people would be able to single them out.

The giant heart wound we bear is barely noticeable to the uninitiated.

Yet even years later, we need extra support, extra care, extra grace to help us continue to heal.

There’s no plastic boot to fit around a broken heart. But there are things friends and family can do to create safe spaces that protect it.

  • Remember my heart is tender and easily bruised.
  • Speak about my child in Heaven. When I hear his name it is music to my ears.
  • Allow me to graciously bow out of activities or gatherings that are noisy, busy or filled with people I don’t know.
  • Don’t change the subject when I become emotional because you are uncomfortable-acknowledge my pain as a perfectly acceptable response to an unfathomable loss or just hug me.
  • Help me carry the light and life of my missing child by sharing memories, photographs or mementos. It’s a great gift to know that my child is spoken about, remembered and loved by others.
  • Recognize that while I am stronger, the absolute weight of my burden isn’t lighter. On some days it’s heavier than others so don’t be surprised by tears that seem out of place or out of time.
  • Remember important dates like my child’s birthday or memorial service day or even when he or she would have graduated high school or college if denied that opportunity. My heart mark all those silent grief anniversaries even when no one else recognizes them. It can be awfully lonely. Compassionate companionship expressed in a note, text or call helps so very much.
  • Please don’t give up on me! There may be seasons when i isolate in an effort to protect my heart. I know it’s hard to continue to reach out to someone who won’t reach back, but sometimes I just don’t have the strength to do it even when the distance is short. Try again in a little while.

If you know someone whose child has run ahead to Heaven, don’t ignore the wound.

Reach out.

Don’t insist that they walk as fast or as unencumbered as you might.

Be willing to slow down and walk with them awhile.

Ripples-Every Life Makes a Splash


Toss that rock in the water and see what happens.

It’s impossible to keep the ripples from moving farther and farther from the point of impact.

And even though I can’t see it, my casual toss has changed the environment of the pond in ways it would not have been changed without my action.

Our lives are like that- we touch other people every day and rarely know how our brief brush may ripple through their lives for years or even eternity.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/01/04/ripples/

This Is What It Means To Be Held

Music has been an important part of my healing.

Not always, or even often, because it makes me feel better.

Rather, like poetry, music distills deep emotions into few words that resonate in my soul.

This isn’t a new song and I have heard it many times. But just the other day someone posted it in a group where we were praying desperately for a baby with profound health issues. Barring a touch from the Father’s hand, there was little hope.

The precious little warrior went home to rest, healed and whole, in the arms of Jesus.

So I listened again. And I realized how unbearably true the lyrics are.

Two months is too little

They let him go

They had no sudden healing

To think that providence would

Take a child from his mother while she prays

Is appalling

Who told us we’d be rescued?

What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?

We’re asking why this happens

To us who have died to live?

It’s unfair

Natalie Grant, This is What it Means to be Held

Appalling, unfair, why did this happen?

Oh, how those questions still rattle around in my heart and mind on some days. When Dominic first left for Heaven they were my constant companion.

“Who told us we’d be rescued?”

Who indeed.

Certainly not Jesus.

He said we’d have trouble in this world. He never sugar coated how hard life could be.

But He left us with the promise that He would be with us no matter what. We would never be alone in the flood or the fire or the deep, deep pit of child loss.

This is what it means to be held

How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life

And you survive

This is what it is to be loved

And to know that the promise was

When everything fell we’d be held

Natalie Grant

Child loss shattered everything-my heart, my world and my understanding of how God works in it. The sacred was most certainly “torn from my life”.

My struggle with the God I thought I knew was as painful as the devastation of burying my son.

This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow

Natalie Grant

It’s so tempting to swallow bitterness when unending despair seems like the only alternative.

But it doesn’t numb the sorrow. Bitterness turns a heart so hard it can’t feel anything-not even love.

The wise hand does open slowly-oh, so slowly-to the beauty and promise of tomorrow.

This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held

Natalie Grant

When we received the news that Dominic left us that early, still-dark morning, I looked over to a sculpture of upturned hands on my living room table and said, “I can’t open my hands to receive blessings if I don’t also leave them open for the bruisings.”

It’s true.

God is holding me still. He is blessing me still.

I will, undoubtedly, be bruised again in some way.

I know His faithful love will see me through.

Grieving Differently: Growing Apart or Growing Stronger?

It’s no secret that men and women are different.

It’s the subject of everything from romantic comedies to hundreds of books.

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” and all that.

So it shouldn’t surprise those of us walking this Valley that our spouse may be grieving very differently than we do. But it often does. Because everything is amplified when it echoes off the high mountains on either side.

And just when we need it most-for ourselves and for extending to others-grace is often in short supply.

So differences become offenses and offenses stack like bricks to build a wall between us and the one person as intimately connected to our missing child as we are.

Image result for image brick wall

Instead of holding each other up, we sometimes tear each other down. Instead of leaning in, we pull away. Instead of talking, we tune out.

Instead of crying together, we cry alone.

Even when we open up and try to address these differences it often ends in disagreement or is met with silence.

That’s discouraging.

I firmly believe that grief doesn’t really change the fundamentals in a relationship but it magnifies them. We all have cracks in our marriages. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect couple regardless of how lovely the photos might be.

Child loss makes the cracks more evident. What might be ignored otherwise, becomes unavoidable. Add gender differences to the load of grief and it’s no wonder many of us struggle.

So how can a marriage survive?

Here are a few pointers:

  • Admit that you and your spouse are different people. Your life experiences, gender and personality affect how each of you grieve. Different isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.
  • Purpose to assume the best and not the worst of your spouse. When he or she makes a comment or shoots you a “look” don’t immediately ascribe dark motives. It may be she’s having an especially bad day or he is tired or distracted.
  • Look for common ground. When you are both in a neutral environment and rested, ask your spouse what they need from you. Then listen without being defensive. It could be that seeing you cry upsets him so that’s why he tries to shut you down. She might long to hear him say their child’s name aloud. Even if nothing changes, sometimes being heard makes a difference.
  • Consider couples’ counseling. Having someone outside your immediate grief circle listen to and guide you through feelings, concerns and problems is almost always helpful. It might only take a few sessions to give you both the tools necessary to walk yourselves through the rough patches.
  • Talk TO your spouse instead of ABOUT him or her. This can be a hard one! I think we all need a safe friend or two who will let us vent. That’s healthy. But it’s not healthy to talk about our spouse to others in what amounts to a bid for support of our own opinions and prejudices. Gathering wood for the fire of offense is easy. Putting out the blaze (even if you want to) is hard.
  • Remember that when feelings fluctuate, commitment carries you through. Grief isn’t just one emotion, it’s a tangled ball of emotions. On a given day you might feel sad, disoriented, angry, anxious and despondent. All that emotional weight is added to whatever else you may be feeling about your spouse. Sometimes it’s just too much to bear and running away seems like the most logical answer. But it’s not. We can never run far enough or fast enough to get away.

There’s no magic to marriage before or after child loss.

It’s mostly work.

We can choose to do that work together in spite of our differences.

We can choose to grow stronger instead of growing apart.

****FULL DISCLOSURE****

My husband and I do not do this perfectly or even close to perfectly. But we are still trying. At different points in this long (almost) six years, we’ve been better or worse at all of it. So don’t think if you are struggling it means you can’t get hang on. Sometimes it’s by the tips of your fingernails, but if you refuse to let go, you can make it.

❤ Melanie