How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs to Ask

After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet. 

Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.  

Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.

And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream: 

How do I DO this? 

How do I keep on living when all I want to do is give up and give in?  How does a body carry this pain-is it even possible?

grief bubble

When I dared look past the moment to the days, weeks, months, DECADES that stretched before me, I was undone.

Even now, if I look too far ahead, my heart pounds and my head explodes.  

So I don’t.  

Honestly, THAT’S how you do it.  

One day at a time.

One moment at a time.

One breath at a time.

I keep reminding my heart that the only thing I have to do is right now. I hold my attention to this very moment and refuse to let my thoughts wander. 

Sure I mark dates on the calendar and am even able to plan ahead a bit now.  But it was nearly three years until I could do that without shaking as I wrote them down.

So dear mama, dear daddy, give yourself permission not to try to figure out what a parent’s heart was never meant to calculate-how to live without the earthly companionship of the child you love-and just breathe.  

One day at a time.

One moment at a time.

One breath at a time.

 

 

 

[Mis] Perception

“I’ll believe it when I see it!”

That’s the standard, isn’t it?  We trust our eyes to tell us the truth.  We rely on our senses to winnow out the chaff of falsehood and leave us with the meaty grain of truth.

But what if my eyes aren’t as trustworthy as I think?

What if my perception is limited and unreliable?

Living in the south means long, hot summers.

In the middle of July I would sign an affidavit that it has to be at least 100 degrees outside and not much cooler inside unless I run my air conditioner to the tune of a huge electric bill.

But if I do a little digging, I find that the average high for July and August in my part of Alabama is only 90-91 degrees.

Now, that doesn’t mean there are no days hotter, but it does mean that my sense of interminable heat is inaccurate and untrue.  As a matter of fact, the average temp begins to decline mid-August when we are all panting for fall to make its appearance.

My point is this:  when I am sweating in the middle of summer, I’m not in a position to give you an accurate weather report.

All I know is that I am hot.

All I know is that I think I will be hot for days and weeks to come.  All I know is that a cool breeze would be welcome but it doesn’t seem to be in the offing anytime soon.

I don’t readily perceive the tiny creep toward cooler temperatures that is happening right under my nose.

It’s been the same way in my grief journey.

Four years in and I am definitely in a better mental, emotional and spiritual place than I was even a year ago.

But if you had asked me at any point during that time if I could perceive a shift toward healing, I would have said, “not really”.

I was (and am) relying on my senses to tell me where I am in this process of embracing the life I didn’t choose.  Yet they are easily overwhelmed by my daily experience-crying one day, laughing the next, undone by memories again, blessed by a friend’s text or phone call-filled to the brim with input.

I have a hard time sorting it out and looking objectively at what the data suggests.

When I can take a step back, I see that my heart has healed in some measure.  I have enfolded the truth that Dominic is not here into who I am and what my life will look like until I join him in heaven.

And understanding THAT helps me continue this journey.

braver stronger smarter

I don’t want to be stuck in the misperception that I can “never learn to live without my son”.

I am learning how to do just that.

I don’t like it.  I will NEVER like it.

But I am doing it.

Little by little, in tiny increments, every day reaching out, reaching forward and making choices that promote healing.

It’s happening.

Even if I can’t see it.

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

Why Friends Abandon Grievers

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDSjust can’t hang in and hold on?

I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it. 

It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time.  I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.

It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.

butterfly away from hand

Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:

  • I represent their greatest fear.  I am a billboard for loss.  My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary.  Most folks run away from scary if they can.
  • I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing.  We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world.  But it’s just not that simple.  The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season.  I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out.  Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
  • My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved.  I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead?  Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park?  These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
  • Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm.  They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse.  These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
  • Some people were going to disappear anyway.  We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away.  Well, circumstances certainly changed!  They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.

Understanding why people run away has helped my heart. 

It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources.  It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.

Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots. 

It changes nothing.

I have limits as well. 

Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.  

forgiveness_is_the_fragrance_that_the_violet_sheds_on_the_heel_that_has_crushed_it-385646

Heartache, Healing and Hope

I spent last weekend with eleven other bereaved mamas in a small Christian camp in Mississippi*

I’ll be honest-what sounded like a great idea a few months ago had begun to sound like an awful and intimidating idea about three days before I was supposed to go.

Even though I felt more prepared for this event than the  Through This Valley Conference in October, I was still filled with trepidation at facilitating five sessions over three days with women I had only “met” online.

 

melanie at hhh retreat 2018 last session (2)

I wanted to go.

I wanted to take this next step toward sharing and serving and healing for my own heart.  But I was still more than a little scared.

I am so, so glad I went!

Every single mama who came through the door brought one more measure of grace into that cabin.  Every heart that cracked open and shared spread the sweet aroma of brokenness and compassion rose up to meet it.

hhh retreat pics of kids (2)

Every tear was acknowledged, every sorrow counted, every story heard.

It was beautiful.

I was overwhelmed by the grace, mercy and love that flowed in, around and through the women there.  It was a perfect picture of how God intends the Body of Christ to work!

We were all poured out in service to one another.

No need for a kitchen committee or clean up crew because it was natural to reach out and pitch in.

I am oh, so sorry for the reason that brought us together.  But I am absolutely amazed at the blessing that ran like a river through that place.

hhh retreat hugging cristal (2)It was a river of healing and life.

No one left “healed”But we all left a little better equipped for this journey.

No one received “answers”But we all left with a few more truths tucked into our belts.

Our hearts are knit together because we chose to show up and be vulnerable.

It is a gift I will carry with me wherever I go.

healing power of exchange

 

*If you are looking for a lovely place to hold a children’s camp for your ministry, please consider  Abby Acres Christian Camp Facebook Page

Time Alone Does NOT Heal

time does not heal its a lie Time, by itself, does not heal the pain of child loss.

But time, plus the work grief requires, plus God’s grace poured out on my heart and in my life, does bring a measure of healing.

heals the broken hearted

I did not believe that in the first months or even years. But I can testify to that truth today.  It has been a slow and very painful process full of stops and starts, one step forward, two steps back.  

Am I still very broken?

Absolutely!

Am I still limping?

YES!

Until the day I die I will never be the same.

But I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of sorrow and God is helping me turn the ashes into something beautiful.

beauty-from-ashes-clothespinThat something bears witness to my son, to my pain and to the truth that, with God’s help, I can endure faithfully to the end.

 

And God is no respecter of persons-He has not given me anything He will not pour out on every single heart that asks.  

My prayer for each wounded reader is that you will feel the Father’s loving arms around you and that He will flood your broken heart with His grace, mercy and comfort.   

 

close to the brokenhearted

Repost: What Does Healing Look Like?

As I continue to walk this Valley, my heart asks the question, “What does healing look like?”

Fewer tears?  Check.

More laughter? Check.

Better able to function? Check.

I’m definitely not as fragile as I was in the days and weeks and first months after Dominic left us.

I can do what life requires without falling apart (most of the time).

Read the rest here:  What Does Healing Look Like?

Anger or Sadness? Or Both?

We live in an angry society.

Social media is full of rants about this and that.  Television blares raised voices shouting over one another in what passes for news coverage.  T-shirts are emblazoned with one-liners intended to provoke others.

We tolerate and even embrace anger as a legitimate emotion.

Yet we rarely make room for mourning.  We hide our tears.  We shame those who don’t hide theirs as “weak” and “soft” and “cowardly” or worse.

But many times what we think is anger, is really sadness.

anger authentic

I’ve discovered that sometimes in this Valley of the Shadow of Death,  deep sorrow masquerades as anger.  And I’ve become sensitive to that truth in other people as well.

Sadness over loss of any kind can be spewed out as anger:

Sorrow over declining health.

Despair over lost opportunities with loved ones.

Heartache that life has not turned out the way one had hoped.

The problem with anger is that it pushes people away.  It creates an impenetrable circle that isolates a heart just when it needs to be loved, cared for and comforted.

angry-man-pointing-finger

Very few are brave enough to battle through another’s angry front to find the sorrow hidden underneath.

So I challenge myself to be more authentic in expressing what I actually feel and not dig a moat around my heart by acting angry when I’m really devastated by grief.

Because I don’t want to push people away, I want them to come close.  

I need them to take my hand and remind me that I’m not alone. 

band-aid-and-heart