No Contest: There’s Enough Heartache to Go Around

I may get jeered by my fellow bereaved parents but I’m committed to honesty so here it is: there is no hierarchy of grief and loss.

Now, am I saying that losing a dog is the same as burying a child?  Absolutely not!  I’ve written about that here.

But what I am saying is that grief, sorrow, loss and heartbreak comes to us in all shapes and sizes.  And what may be small to me may be huge to someone else.

In the past weeks I’ve been exposed to a number of people who were waiting for those magic minutes of visitation allowed for intensive care units.

Each one had a story.  

Each one had a cross to bear and a complicated life they were trying to maintain outside the additional stress and strain of a loved one hooked up to tubes and heart monitors.

None of them revealed (to me at least) that they were bereaved parents.

But I could clearly see pain, sorrow, grief and weariness etched in their furrowed brows. I could hear exhaustion in their voices as they placed phone call after phone call to update people that wanted to know how things were going but couldn’t make it to the hospital.  I noticed hope spring to life in each heart when the clock ticked toward the assigned visitation window and how they leaned forward willing those last seconds to fly by faster.

heart and wood

I knew they were hurting.  It didn’t matter if they hurt as much or less than me. There’s enough pain to go around in this life.

It isn’t a contest.

And I realized that because of my great grief and sorrow, I had a gift to share.  I could reach out and take a hand, listen to a story, hug a weary shoulder empathetically, gently and without judgement.

I understand the weight of hard things.

I know by experience that life can change in a single breath.  I carry both the ongoing burden of missing my son and the traumatic memory of life changed instantly by a knock on the door.   It’s made me stronger in ways I would not have chosen.

I will not squander that strength.

I will put my shoulder to the harness alongside my fellow humans and offer to help carry some of their burden.  I will extend my hand to the stumbling, strengthen the heart of the hurting and offer a listening ear to the one who has no one to talk to.

yoke-of-oxen

I cannot undo what I know.  I cannot undo what has brought them here or may take them to places THEY don’t want to go.

But I can be present.

I can refuse to turn away because I think their grief is small in comparison to my own.   

I can choose love.  

hands-passing-heart

 

Give What You’ve Got

If you had asked me four years ago where I’d be and what I’d be doing in life, I can guarantee you that writing a blog and ministering to bereaved parents wouldn’t have been in the top 1000 answers I might have given.

But here I am.  

Because it is where I have been sent.

Not where I would have gone-oh, no!-I would have taken a ship in the opposite direction like Jonah if God had given me a heads up.  Instead I was whisked away on the waves of grief right out to sea.  

Gasping for breath and trying to keep my head above water, I realized that what I had needed early on were two things:  (1) assurance that what I was experiencing/feeling/thinking was normal; and (2) encouragement from others farther along in this journey that I could endure this awful pain.

So I stepped out in faith hoping that being authentic, transparent and sharing MY journey might help another heart desperate to know she wasn’t alone.

I decided that even if others misunderstood or took issue with or didn’t like what I wrote,  I would not pull any punches.  

It was going to be the good, the bad and the ugly.  

No holds barred.

Emotional nakedness-even if it meant embarrassment.  

And I pray every single time I hit “publish” that what I send into cyberspace is what at least one heart needs for THAT day.

It’s all I’ve got, and I’m giving it away.

go where sent stay where put give what youve got

Bereavement: How Other People Can Help

I ran across this infographic awhile ago and LOVE how it puts things in an easy to see and easy to follow format.

It’s a great tool-not only for those grieving the loss of a loved onebut for anyone going through a rough patch.  

bereavement how others can help graphic

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Shake Off the Shame

Shame is a shackle as sure as any chains forged from iron.  

And it often finds its home in the hearts of those who bury a child.

Bereaved parents may feel shame for lots of reasons:

Read the rest here:  Shake Off the Shame

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Bereaved Parent’s Wish List

This list is adapted from a friend’s Facebook post (with permission) and a list published by Children’s Hospital of Colorado.

BEREAVED PARENT’S WISH LIST:

1. I wish my child hadn’t died. I wish I had my child back.

2. I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to speak my child’s name. My child lived and was very important to me. I need to hear that my child was important to you also.

Read the rest here:  Bereaved Parent’s Wish List

Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

“Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?  How do you take into account the circumstances of a death, the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, trauma surrounding the event or any of a dozen other things that influence how long and how deeply one grieves a loss?

Obviously there are certain signs that someone needs professional help, medication or intervention.  If a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, acting out in ways that harm or threaten harm to themselves or others, or is experiencing depression or uncontrollable anxiety then please, please, PLEASE get them to a doctor who can diagnose and treat them.

But for the rest of us, “normal” grief covers a wide variety of behaviors, feelings, attitudes and timelines:

Posting photos or videos of our missing child is normal.  It’s the last visual link we have to someone we can no longer see.

Mentioning my son in conversation is normal.  I mention my other children and his life is still intertwined with ours.

Crying-even years or decades after the loss-is NORMAL  Grief waves can hit with tsunami force from out of nowhere and slam me to the ground. The only thing I can do then is let them wash over and around me until they pass.

Keeping space for my son in my home, at my table, in my heart and on holidays is normal.  Some parents do this with a special candle, photo or ritual. Some do it with a stuffed animal or other item that represents their child. Some do it with words or deeds of kindness done in honor of the missing one.  No one has sat in Dominic’s space at my table in these three years.  It’s my silent witness to his ongoing influence and irreplaceable presence in our family circle.

Keeping a room exactly as it was is normal.  Boxing everything up is also normal.  Every heart is different and every heart has to decide what helps it heal.

Sleeplessness is normal.  Some parents never return to pre-loss sleep patterns.  I wake every morning at about the time the deputy came to our door.  Every now and then, if I am extremely tired, I may fall back asleep for an hour or two.  Sleeping the day away is normal, too.  Sleep may be a welcome relief to a weary heart and some parents find that when they can, they sleep a lot.  (Note:  if this continues for days or weeks, please check with your doctor about the possibility of depression.)

Anxiety is, sadly, VERY normal.  The worst has actually happened and that makes the possibility that it could happen again oh, so real.  Anxiety may well spread to things that seem to have no relationship to loss.  It’s also normal to have a “devil may care” attitude. The worst has actually happened, so what could be worse?  Might as well live life to the full.

Withdrawal is normal.  So is over-scheduling and staying busy.  Both are ways someone may try to deal with heartbreak.

You don’t have to be “stuck” in grief to still feel the pain and have it continue to affect your life.

I am and have been highly functional since the morning the deputy arrived with the news of my son’s fatal motorcycle accident.

But I am a very different “me” than I was before that doorbell rang.

Some things I can’t do anymore. Some things I do differently and some things are brand new and I have only done them since he left us.

Labels are rarely helpful when applied to people.

Every person is unique, every relationship unique and every situation unique.

And every grief journey will be unique as well.

roller coaster 2 better image

 

 

 

The Best Way To Help A Struggling Heart

The best way to help a struggling heart is to simply be available.

Anyone can choose to be a safe space for others to share their hearts.

Anyone can make room for honest conversation, welcoming another soul to unburden itself of whatever heaviness is weighing it down.

All it takes is a listening ear and time.

best way you can help me