What I Wanted to Know: How Do You Breathe?


It was the question I asked the bereaved mother that came to my son’s funeral.

It was the question a mother asked me as we stood by her granddaughter’s casket, surrounded by family and flowers.

And it is the right question.

Because when the breath leaves the body of your child, and you look down at the shell that used to be the home of a vibrant, living soul, you simply can. not. breathe.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/07/24/how-do-you-breathe/

Companioning The Bereaved

I’ve learned so much in this journey.

I’ve had to unlearn some things too.

One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is that the medical model of “identify, treat, cure” is not applicable to grieving hearts.

Grief is not a disease. It’s not an abnormality. It doesn’t need to be treated and cured so that it “goes away”.

It’s the perfectly normal and appropriate response to loss.

A more helpful model is compassionate companionship.

What grievers need is faithful friends and family who choose to come alongside and refuse to be frightened away when the process seems long, tortuous and challenging. We need others to be present, to truly listen and to bear witness to our wounds.

Recently I found this list from Dr. Alan Wolfelt, founder of the Center for Loss (http://www.centerforloss.com) and I love it!

It’s an elegant synopsis of what compassionate companionship looks like in practice:

  1. Being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.
  2. Going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
  3. Honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.
  4. Listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.
  5. Bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.
  6. Walking alongside; it is not about leading.
  7. Discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling up every moment with words.
  8. Being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.
  9. Respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.
  10. Learning from others; it is not about teaching them.
  11. Compassionate curiosity; it is not about expertise.

~Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Eleven Tenets of Companioning the Bereaved

At one time or another each of us need someone to be present, to truly listen and to bear witness to our wounds.

When your world is profoundly dark, an outstretched hand is often the only way a heart can hold onto hope. 

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Repost: Learning Limits

An exchange with a Facebook friend got me thinking.

How much of my struggle in life is a result of ignoring my own limits?

How much pain do I inflict on myself because I won’t admit I need help?  Why do I insist on living to the edge of endurance and emotional capacity?

Why, why, why do I try so hard to keep up a front of invincibility?

Pride.

Pride goads me like a whip.

Pride makes me say, “yes” when I should say, “no”.

Read the rest here:  Learning Limits

Fear Of What You Know

Last week was a roller coaster.

My first grandchild-a boy-was born prematurely on Saturday after several days of heart stopping, breath robbing drama as his mama went back and forth to the hospital three times in as many days.

My son, his father, is deployed overseas and paddling as fast as he can to get home.

james and lillie

I am twelve hours away and leaving early this morning to go down and do whatever I can to help.  My daughter-in-law’s mother is there and I’m not offended to believe she will be better suited to help her daughter than I am.

But I’ll stay for a bit just to be an extra pair of hands.

I’m sure anyone who gets the news that mama and baby are in trouble is frightened.  It doesn’t take much for a heart to fear the worst.

But for someone who knows exactly what the worst feels like, there’s a whole other level to this terror.

Fear of what you don’t know can’t hold a candle to fear of what you know by experience.

I spent Saturday in anxious prayer, begging God for grace and mercy.  I had no idea how much it took out of me until after I heard baby and mama were doing well and the sun went down.  Exhaustion swept over me like a heavy blanket and it was all I could do to make it upstairs and crawl in bed.

I am beyond thankful that this story has a hopeful ending.  The little tyke only weighs two pounds but appears to be a fighter.  

It will be a long, hard climb for him to mature enough to leave the hospital.  There will be challenges along the way.

But his mama is on the road to recovery and his daddy is on the road (flight!) home.

I’ll spend some of the time driving down finishing the baby blanket I was making before he made his early appearance.

Every stitch is a prayer.  

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  

But I’m thankful today is a good day.  

I’m a grandma! ❤

all wise and prehistoric

 

Torches In The Dark

There are so many life circumstances that plunge a heart into darkness.  

Child loss is certainly one of them, although not the only one.  

And when you’re in the dark, stumbling around, trying to avoid the sharp corners and looking, looking, looking for a tiny sliver of light to guide you out, it is terrifying.  

If you don’t have a pocket full of matches or a flashlight or a lantern, you are at the mercy of whoever cares enough to come back for you.

I am so thankful for the friends and family who never tire of my fearful cries when I find myself in dark places.  

They come running.  

They don’t leave me there.  

Sometimes all they have is a tiny candle themselves, a sliver of hope they are clinging to.  But they raise it high , share its glow with me and together we take a step forward toward the brighter light of day.

I will never, ever forget the ones who come to me with a torch.

They help my heart when I can’t help myself.  

They refuse to leave me in the dark.  

 

you never forget a person who came to you with a torch in the dark

Photo of man with lantern by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families

I firmly believe that our friends and extended family want to reach out, want to help, want to walk alongside as we grieve the death of our child

 I am also convinced that many of them don’t because they don’t know how.  

It may seem unfair that in addition to experiencing our loss, we also have to educate others on how to help us as we experience it, but that’s just how it is.

The alternative is to feel frustrated and abandoned or worse.  

So here’s a list of helpful tips (and a great infographic!) for interacting with bereaved families:  

Express condolences and show you care. Don’t avoid me, please!  You cannot make me any sadder.  I need to hear from you.

friends hugging

Refer to my child by name.  Dominic is STILL my son.  He is still part of my story.  But because he’s no longer visible, his name often goes unspoken.  Please talk to me about him, use his name, tell me a story of how he impacted your life or a memory that makes you smile.  It makes me smile too.

Actively listen and be supportive.  It’s hard to listen to someone tell you how much they are hurting and not offer advice or think of ways to “fix” them.  I can tell you from experience that what I need most on my darkest days is for someone to say, “It IS dark.  I’m so sorry.”  Silence is OK too.  Not every quiet moment needs to be filled with chatter.

listening is a postive act

Understand that each family and family member will grieve in different ways.  You may have observed child loss before but what you saw in one family may not translate to the next.  There are no hard and fast rules for this awful journey.  The age of the child, family background and structure, manner of death-all these impact grief.  In addition, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers all bring their personalities, stage of life, beliefs and experiences to the journey.  There were five of us left behind when Dominic ran ahead.  We were each devastated but expressed it in very different ways.  Nearly five years later, those gaps have widened, not narrowed.

Fathers grieve too.  Sometimes support focuses almost exclusively on the mother.  In part because of a common notion that mothers are somehow emotionally closer to their children than dads.  In part because many men are less demonstrative and may do a good job hiding grief.  Whatever the reason, don’t assume one parent is dealing “better” with the loss than another (mother or father) just because he (or she) is not crying openly.  No one escapes this awful blow unscathed.

bereaved fathers

Don’t overlook siblings.  Surviving siblings are sometimes referred to as “forgotten grievers”.  If they are very young, people may think they are relatively unaffected by the death of a brother or sister. If they are grown and out of the home, people may figure that the siblings’ own, very full and very busy, lives keep them preoccupied.  While some of that may be true-to an extent-most surviving siblings are deeply impacted by the death of a brother or sister, regardless of age.  Not only have they lost a member of the family and changed birth order, they have also lost the family they knew, the parents they knew and a co-keeper of memories and secrets.  Bereaved parents are often overwhelmed with grief for their living children as well as the child that is missing. One of the best gifts anyone gave me was reaching out to my surviving children.  It helped my heart to know that they had friends who were supporting and loving them well.

kids cartoon

Be yourself.  People often feel awkward and stiff when approaching a bereaved parent or family member.  That’s perfectly understandable.  The bereaved seem so fragile (are so fragile!) that folks are afraid the wrong word or touch might shatter them into a thousand pieces.  But what your friend or family needs right now is the you they’ve always known and loved.  If you are a hugger, hug!  If you are a storyteller, tell stories (appropriate ones, ones of the missing child).  If you are a cook and cleaner, then cook and clean.  Our family was blessed by our friends doing exactly what they had always done-come alongside in their own special way.  So much had changed in our world that familiar touchstones, familiar routines and familiar faces were a real comfort.

Keep in mind words matter.  Now is not the time to try to satisfy your curiosity about exactly “what happened”.  Loud joking is rarely welcome.  Many bereaved families find it hard to laugh in the first days, weeks, months because it feels like betrayal.  Don’t offer platitudes intended to help them “look on the bright side” or consider that “it could be worse”.  There is nothing worse than burying your child.  Nothing.  Listen and take direction from the person you are comforting.  Follow his or her lead.  And if something less than helpful slips out, own it and apologize.

pencil-drawing-bereaved-mother

It’s never too late to reach out.  NEVER.  Sometimes people stay away at first for lots of reasons.  Or they show up for the memorial service and then fade into the background.  After a bit, even if they want to reach out, they may feel embarrassed by the long absence.  Don’t be.  So many people stop calling, visiting and texting within the first weeks that your outstretched hand of friendship will be a welcome beacon of hope.  If you need to, apologize for your absence.  Be honest.  Admit you were scared or whatever.

Then show up. 

Stick around.

You don’t have to be perfect.  

Just be present.  

bereaved families infographic

When Help Doesn’t Look Like I Thought it Should (or Hoped it Would)

I suspect I’m not alone in growing up with stories of a handsome prince coming to the rescue on his white charger.

If you hear the tales often enough they burn an image in your mind of exactly what help should look like-brave, bold and unmistakably obvious.

knight1

Trouble is, real life rarely plays out that way.

Oftentimes help doesn’t look like I think it should or even like I hoped it would.

Sometimes, in fact, it’s pretty much opposite of what I had in mind.

And that means that if I’m set on preconceived notions, I might just miss out on precisely the aid my heart is hoping for.  In my prideful arrogance I can overlook the hand that’s reaching out for mine.

This past November, my youngest son thought of a wonderful way to spare my joints while I did the chores around here.  I spend a good part of each day walking, toting buckets (and other assorted stuff) and tending to our animals and our property.  While the walking is great for my health and my bones, the carrying isn’t.  So he suggested I think about getting a golf cart to make things easier.

Can I just be honest here?

My idea of someone who used a golf cart to go a mere half mile or so was that they were L-A-Z-Y.  (No offense to any readers or friends who use one.  ❤ )

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

I was NOT going to be THAT person.  I was going to carry my big behind and feed buckets up and down the driveway unassisted.  I needed the exercise and, after all, I was plainly capable of doing it.

But after talking it over, and after my husband generously agreed to purchase one, I gave in.

golf cart and roses

I absolutely, positively LOVE it!

It makes all the difference in the world to my hands, ankles, hips and wrists.  I still get plenty of exercise but I’m no longer wearing out my joints doing daily tasks.  I didn’t realize how carrying buckets, wood, limbs and other random things for a distance was impacting the swelling and pain I experienced on a daily basis.

And it made me think of how many times I may be missing out on precisely the help God is sending me because I don’t like the package it comes in or my pride is preventing me from accepting it.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I have needed so. much. more. help.  

Things that used to be easy are hard and things that used to be hard are harder.  

Sometimes that help has come from people I least expected to offer it.  Sometimes that help has come from people I (frankly) didn’t want to be beholden to.

Sometimes I’ve waved off the very help I need because my pride has reared its ugly head and won the battle for my heart.

What foolishness!  

So I’m going to try to finally let the lesson sink in.  

Every morning as I hop in my cart and go, I remind my heart that pride is folly and proffered help should be received as the gift it is-whatever it looks like,  ❤

melanie in golf cart sunny