What Can I DO? Start by Showing Up.

This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved. 

A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.

The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.

It made me dig deep in my memories for who did what in those first hours, first days and how it made a difference in our family’s ability to hold onto hope and to stumble forward in the heavy fog of grief, pain and sorrow that enveloped our hearts.

My friend was already committed to showing up and sitting silently and  lovingly with this child’s mother. I didn’t have to remind her of the power of compassionate companionship.

She was going. 

She was staying as long as it was helpful and necessary.

She was coming back as many times as needed.

And that is a gift!

love is courage

I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane.  It was Robbie-our “adopted” son.  As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie.  Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help.  I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.

And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little. 

Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!I was not going to walk this Valley alone.  They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here.  I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.

Others came.  Some did practical things, brought necessary items, helped me begin to think through next steps.  But many just sat with me and my children as we waited for my husband to fly in and my parents to drive up.

I cannot overstate how important SIMPLY BEING THERE was!

Thinking back on that time, I dug up some other very practical “first few days” things friends and family can do:

  • Bring disposable plates, cutlery and plenty of paper goods (toilet paper, kleenex, napkins) along with extra trash bags.
  • Place a notebook and pens near the spot folks might drop off meals or other things and ask that they write their names and what they brought inside.  My daughter did this for me and while I was often unable to acknowledge it at the time (or unaware of the blessing) I had a record that is dear to me still.
  • Set up an online meal planning/scheduling group. Make sure to note allergies or special food needs because while it’s wonderful to have food provided, it’s not helpful if the family can’t eat it because of dietary restrictions.
  • If there are unwashed clothes belonging to the childDO NOTwash them in an attempt to help out.  It may sound awful to anyone who has not buried a child, but nearly every mom I know wanted something with her child’s scent still on it.  I have a few things of Dom’s that are in a sealed plastic bag.  Every so often I open it and inhale what’s left of his fragrance.  Smell is such a powerful memory stimulant.
  • Begin to collect photographs from online sources, friends and family so that there will be many to choose from if the family wants to make a video for services.
  • Bring disposable Lysol wipes or something similar for quick clean ups in bathrooms and the kitchen.  Discreetly tidy up whenever possible or necessary.
  • Do NOT move papers, piles of mail, etc. without the family’s permission.  It may seem like a good idea at the time to make things neat for visitors, but it will be a nightmare later!  My brain is nearly empty of details for most of the first month after Dominic left us.  I depended on routine and familiar spots to remember where important items might be for the first year.  If something had been moved, I could not locate it, no matter how hard I tried.  If somethingHAS to be moved, place it in a box-clearly labeled-and attach a prominent note on the refrigerator or someplace like that indicating where it is.
  • Just sit and listen.  Or just sit in silence.  Whatever is most helpful to the bereaved parents and their family. Loving presence kept me anchored to this world when all I wanted to do was float away somewhere the pain couldn’t find me.

Compassionate companionship makes the difference between a heart holding onto hope or letting go and falling into the abyss.

Trust me.

I know.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

Love in Action: 31 Practical Ways to Help Grieving Parents When They Really Need It

When Dominic died, I didn’t get a manual on what to do.  I didn’t get an orientation into how to be a grieving parent.  So when some people asked how they could help me and my family, I really didn’t know.

A comment repeated often by bereaved parents is, “Please don’t use the phrase, ‘let me know if there is anything I can do’, people mean well, but this is unhelpful.”

Another mom put it this way, ” There are too many meanings to this phrase.  It can mean anywhere from, ‘I really want to help’ to ‘I don’t know what to say so I’ll say this but I don’t really want you to ask’.  Also it’s so hard to make any decisions–trying to figure out what you might want or be able to do is overwhelming.  Instead, offer specific things you can do and make plans to do them.”

Read the rest here:   31 Practical Ways to Love Grieving Parents in the First Few Days

Love in Action: How to Help in The First Days After Loss

The death of any loved one opens a door and forces you to pass through.

You cannot procrastinate, cannot refuse, cannot ignore or pretend it away.

Suddenly, you find yourself where you absolutely do not want to be.  

And there is no going back.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well in the First Days After Loss

When It’s Been YEARS-How to Bless a Grieving Parent

Please hear me. 

I do NOT blame you that my son and my sorrow have drifted down your list of “things that need attention”.  Your life is as busy as mine once was and your calendar full of commitments and celebrations that require your attendance.

There is no way you would know it’s 69 days until the fourth anniversary of Dominic’s sudden absence. 

There is no reason for you to be aware that as the southern landscape turns to spring, my heart and mind turn to death.  

But it’s the truth. 

As the rest of the world looks forward to Easter (and I do too-for the promise and hope it brings) I am dreading Holy Week.  Dominic was killed the Saturday before Palm Sunday and laid to rest the Monday after Easter.  So every year I relive it twice-once during Holy Week and once again (when the dates are different) according to the calendar.

And each year it feels lonelier and lonelier.  

Because each year fewer and fewer people remember or if they do, they don’t know how to offer that up as a blessing because it feels awkward or stiff.

So may I suggest a few things that most bereaved parents would absolutely LOVE for friends and family to say or do-especially as the months roll into years or even decades?

  • Send a card, message or text indicating that you DO remember.  And not just for the date of passing, but also for his or her birthday or other important milestone dates.
  • Send an electronic or physical copy of a photo.  It feels so empty to peruse the same photos over and over.  It is an invaluable gift to get one I haven’t ever seen before.  Every time it feels like I get a tiny new piece of Dominic to hold close to my heart.
  • If you have saved voice mails or videos-send those.  Not every parent can or wants to listen/watch these, but they are a gift nonetheless.  Just having them brings some comfort.
  • Post a memory on Facebook.  If the child’s timeline is still up, write something TO the child-did you share an experience, a class, a hobby-then speak to that.  Tell me how Dominic is still part of your life.  Because as long as his influence still lives, part of him lives also.
  • Speak his or her name in conversation.  I know it can be awkward.  But don’t shy away from mentioning my child in conversation just as you would if he were living.  If you are talking about an event in which he took part, please, please, please do NOT talk around him.  I remember.  You aren’t shielding me. It is so good for my heart to share these memories with other people.
  • If I post a photo or memory on Facebook, please don’t scroll past with the attitude “there she goes again!”.  I post because I will talk about Dominic just as I will talk about my living children as long as I live.  Yes, it’s the same photo-but I don’t have new ones because I CAN’T TAKE THEM, not because I don’t want them.  If you think it’s  “too much” I challenge you to cut off all (I mean ALL) communication with one of your living children for a week.  That’s just the tiniest taste of what it’s like.
  • If I plan some kind of memorial activity, participate if you can.  Personally I haven’t done this but many parents plan balloon releases or ask people to do a Random Act of Kindness in the name of their child.  If you are able, join in.

There is a common theme here:  if you think about my child, let me know.  

I will not forget Dominic.  

I couldn’t. 

But it is oh, so helpful to know that others aren’t forgetting either.  

missing child from arms

How Transparent Should I Be When Sharing?

I am committed to authenticity but I am also committed to my own privacy and the privacy of my family.

So while I share freely here and in other places, I don’t share everything.

Sometimes I withhold because it’s not my story to tell.  Sometimes it’s because I can’t tell it without harming or defaming others.  And sometimes I don’t bare all because I just can’t weather other people’s reactions to what I have to say.

But for the most part, I’m pretty transparent.  Because secrets don’t serve anyone well.  

If I pretend to be stronger than I really am, I hide the truth that it is Christ in me that gives me strength.

If I don’t admit that certain words or actions hurt my heart, I enable thoughtless behavior.

If I only parrot “Sunday School” answers when someone asks about my faith in relation to my loss, then I silence other hearts wrestling with questions and pain in light of God’s sovereignty and love.

If I hide my tears, my pain, the missing then I minimize this great loss, And I will not make losing Dominic small.

business-authenticity

 

But if I am honest about my feelings,

honest about my weakness,

honest about what helps and what hurts,

then I can redeem part of this pain.

I can use it to make space for other hurting hearts.

 

Transparent is hard because it makes me vulnerable.  

But transparent is good because it makes my pain useful.

I didn’t choose this life, but I won’t waste it.  

brene brown vulnerablity sounds like truth

 

25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

This will be the fourth Christmas without Dominic.

I’m certain that for some of my family and many of my friends, they are less and less aware of his absence.  That’s completely natural and understandable.  

But for me, his absence looms just as large THIS Christmas as it did that FIRST Christmas.

Even if you do realize how hard it is for grievers during the holidays, you might not have any idea how to show you care.

I came across this list originally published Family Life Today that gives 25 ideas to give holiday hope to the grieving and wanted to share it because I think it is wonderful.

I can promise you that any hurting heart would be delighted to have a friend or family member reach out in one or more of these ways. 

25 Christmas Gifts or Remembrances for the Brokenhearted

1.  A tree that can be planted in the family’s yard in memory of the loved one (or a gift certificate to a nursery that can be used to purchase a tree in the spring)

2.  Bibles, Christmas Poinsettias, or library books given as memorials

3.  Memorials to the local church or charities

4.  Home videos of the loved one (especially ones of activities that the family may not have)

5.  A scrapbook filled with pictures of the loved one

6.  Special Christmas ornaments (for example, if the child played the piano, see if you can find an ornament in the shape of a piano)

7. Books such as Streams in the Dessert and When Life is Changed Forever

8.  A personal item that would become a memento about the loved one’s personality or gifting

9.  Gift certificates to a cabin or lodge, or to a place that the loved one once enjoyed

10. An original poem about the deceased

11. A journal from friends and family with written memories about the deceased

12. A written tribute to the deceased (The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents by Dennis Rainey and David Boehi, explains how you can do this.)

13. Addressing their Christmas cards or notes

14. Joining them in holiday shopping or doing the shopping for them

15. Asking if you can help decorate their home for Christmas

16. Sharing homemade Christmas cookies

17. Arranging family photographs in albums

18. Inviting them to decorate a gingerbread house

19. Picking them up for Christmas services at church and holiday get-togethers

20. Helping them shop for that “perfect gift” that they can give to others in memory of their loved one

21. Decorating a small tree with ornaments that have special memories of the loved one

22. Helping them write holiday memories

23. Organizing a candle-light memorial for close friends and family

24. Having a family-time of singing some of the deceased’s favorite Christmas carols and hymns

25. Giving the brokenhearted blank journals to write Bible verses that remind them of God’s presence, such as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4a and Jeremiah 29:11

NO One is “Strong Enough”

I’m kind of an overachiever. 

I grew up in a family where the motto was “You can do whatever you want to do if you want to do it badly enough”.

If you promised to go somewhere, do something, make something, provide something-well you better go, do, make or provide.

NO excuses allowed.

That kind of work ethic does set you apart and help you get ahead.

But it can also set you up for ultimate, catastrophic failure. 

Because there will come a moment in every life when events beyond your control overwhelm your heart and prevent you from going, doing, making, providing.

And if your self-worth is built upon a foundation of never letting anyone down, never asking for help, never being needy-well, then you go from feeling worthy to feeling worthless in a heartbeat.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I had short seasons of helplessness due to illness.  Those few days and weeks were hard but I knew that I would soon return to the woman I was before and could resume the work that was essential to my feeling worthy of love and respect.

These last years since his departure have proven to be an extended period of helplessness and brokenness that continue to prevent me from doing, doing, doing.

And worse, that have required me to ask for help-over and over and over again.

But you know what I’m learning?  I’m learning that my worth is not based on what I can give.  

I do not have to earn love.  If what I’m getting from others is because of what I do for them, then it’s not real love.

I do not have to justify my existence by working myself to death.  If that is the only reason people want me around, then it’s a lousy one.

I’m also learning that refusing help is pride.  Pure and simple.

I can wrap it up in any excuse I want, but the root is self-importance and insistence that I can “do it myself” like a defiant two-year-old.

NO ONE can do it all themselves.

We ALL need help.

Asking for it and receiving it gracefully is strength, not weakness.

you are never strong enough that you dont need help