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

 

 

Grace Like Rain: Why It’s So Darn Hard to Ask For Help

I would much rather be the one bringing the casserole than the one receiving it.  

Not because I’m ungrateful but because I’m uncomfortable.

It is humbling to have to depend on other people.  It’s hard to admit I can’t manage on my own.  It’s downright humiliating to need help with daily tasks that used to come easy.

But truth is, I cannot make it alone.

Not now and really, not before-although I had kept up a pretty good front for decades.  

While it is hard and humbling and sometimes humiliating, it’s healthy to admit when I’ve reached the end of my own reserves.

Because we were made for relationship. 

Helping one another is how human hearts connect and grow together. It’s how we experience grace.

And there’s more than enough grace to go around.  

Remember studying the water cycle in elementary school?  A great big circle-from the ocean to the sky raining down on the dry land and running back to the ocean.  Plenty of water to go around.

Never actually being used up, just rearranged and reapportioned.

Grace is like that.  It passes from one heart to the next to the next.  Rearranged and reapportioned but never used up.

When I give, that’s wonderful.  That’s easy (for me) because it makes me feel like I’m in control, on top, doing my part.

When I receive, that’s a little harder.  Because I feel like maybe I’m not trying hard enough, not working diligently enough, not contributing my share.

But that’s a lie. 

Because ultimately ALL grace flows from God through Christ. 

When I give, I’m giving out of the abundance He has showered on me.  When I receive, I am receiving out of the abundance He has showered on someone else.

In the end, it’s all God.  

If I refuse the grace He offers through others, I’m refusing HIM. 

Not them.  

I need to remember that.  

grace is a blanket of hope

 

 

Care & Feeding of Your Grieving Person: “You Don’t Need to be Perfect, You Just Need to be Present”

I just love this.  

It’s simple, humorous, shareable and oh, so true.  

“You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to be present.”

care and feeding of your grieving person

Help! My Family Won’t Talk About My Missing Child.

 

At first everyone talked about him.

It’s what people do just after a person leaves this world and leaves behind only memories.

It comes natural before the unnatural fact of child loss settles in and begins to make everyone uncomfortable.

But at some point after the funeral and way before the tears dried up, people stopped feeling easy mentioning his name.

And when I mentioned him, they weren’t sure whether they should just let those words fall with a “thud!” between us or pick up the conversational ball and run with it.

It’s a bit easier to understand when friends do it.

But so, so many bereaved parents lament the fact that even family members stop saying their missing child’s name aloud.

They stop sharing memories and stop acknowledging the place he or she holds in a parent’s heart regardless of their permanent address.

It hurts.  A LOT. 

I realized after the first six months or so that most people (including my family) didn’t know HOW to talk about my missing son.

So I began modeling it for them: I spoke of memories in past tense as I would for anyone, I spoke of character traits in present tense– because he is still all that plus some in Heaven-and I refused to ignore the elephant in the room.

grief is often the elephant in the room

I told them it was impossible to make me sadder by mentioning Dominic but it was very possible to make my burden heavier by NOT mentioning him.  They were not reminding me that he was gone, I breathe his absence in and out like oxygen all day long.  

miss-you-every-day

 

I know it seems unfair that we must simultaneously learn by (awful and heartbreaking!) experience and also educate those around us, but it is what it is.

If I’m honest, though, before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I didn’t really know how to talk about a young person who died.  It’s natural to reminisce about Grandmama’s favorite recipe or the old-fashioned way she did her hair.  It’s positively Unnatural to speak in past tense about a young, vibrant human being that you never expected to outlive.

There are always going to be some folks-even family-who cannot or will not speak about my child in Heaven.  

I can’t force them to do it.  

But I can encourage the ones who do by telling them what a beautiful gift it is to hear his name on their lips.  

 

mention them teddy bear

Stick Around: Help Another Heart Hold Onto Hope

When grief was fresh, the pain was raw and my heart was oh, so tender, I desperately needed a safe space to talk about the nitty-gritty of child loss.

And I found it in online bereaved parents’ groups.  

I’m so thankful that they exist, that they are maintained by people who give time and energy to keeping them safe and that-for the most part-participants are kind, compassionate and encouraging.

There is something I’ve noticed now that I’ve been here awhile.  Many parents tend to drop out of active participation when they get a little further along in their journey. 

I understand completely that time, plus the work grief requires, often means a heart has less need for these groups.  It’s not that grief dissipates, it’s simply that we get stronger and learn to carry it a little better.

I also know that grief groups can become  Echo Chambers and wear on a heart after a time.

We all need a break.

But can I take a moment to encourage those among us who have learned a little, lived a little and walked longer in the path of child loss to stick around?

Newly bereaved parents need to know that they CAN survive.

Your presence-even if you don’t have wonderful words of wisdom-speaks volumes. 

When someone comments and shares that her loss was 5, 7, 10 years ago, it helps my heart hold onto hope. 

Because if YOU can make it, maybe I can too.  

buckets to put out flames