I Need To Tell The Story (Even If You’ve Heard It Before)

I have so much more empathy for older folks since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

I’ve always tried to be a patient listener when hearing that same story over and over and over but have to admit that sometimes I’d drift off or internally mock an elder because I was tired of hearing it.

Not anymore.

Because I understand now that it’s in the telling that one both commemorates and honors people as well as the past.

Me and Aunt Mattie Lou at her 99th birthday.

Stories are how we weave facts into narrative and give them meaning. It’s why so many of us love historical fiction or period dramas that not only reference actual people and events but also peek at emotions, motivation and draw conclusions.

I could hand you my daily calendar and you’d understand the outline of where I was and what I did.

But you wouldn’t know what I thought or felt that day unless I filled it in.

When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I was forced at first to deliver the most basic message to others who needed to know. I repeated it over and over, “I have to tell you something awful. Dominic is dead.”

I didn’t really know much more than that.

Details were added by friends and first responders in the days to come.

The story broadened to include how we reassembled our family from across the country, who showed up to help us through the first hours, where we chose to bury him, what the funeral service looked like and on and on and on.

For months afterward I found myself compelled to repeat the story of those days.

Compelled to rewind and play again the details, each time teasing out additional insights, questions and feelings.

It was an important part of unspooling and exploring what, exactly, it meant to live in a world that no longer included one of my children.

I know sometimes folks get tired of me telling the story. For them, it is a reminder of some awful event that is tucked neatly in the past. A date on a calendar somewhere that might occasionally tickle the back of their brain and evoke a, “that’s so sad” response but not something they live with every. single. day.

But for me, Dominic’s death is an ongoing experience.

Every day I have to fit his absence into my world. I have to find a way to live around the giant void where he SHOULD be but ISN’T.

So the story grows.

It’s not only what happened on the day he left, it’s what has happened since and is still happening now.

When you make space for me to tell, you make space for me to feel.

And that helps my heart hold on.

When People Just Don’t Listen

I had a very uncomfortable exchange with someone at church Wednesday night.  

We have a light potluck dinner each Wednesday before Bible Study and I’m on kitchen duty.  So I was uncovering dishes, adding spoons and getting things ready when conversation erupted around me about a “horrible wreck just up the road.”

I kept silent and tried to focus on the plastic wrap and aluminum foil but couldn’t help hearing the animated relaying of detail after detail until it reached a crescendo ending in someone declaring that, “Well, those people just drive too fast.  They don’t even care about themselves.”  

You might guess where this is going.  

Yep.  Couldn’t take it anymore so I said, “Most young people feel invincible.  They think it won’t happen to them.  If they knew they might really die and all that meant, they wouldn’t do it.”  

Which kind of slowed them down but didn’t stop them.  

So I asked, “Is the guy OK?”  Wanting a simple answer not an account of grisly details.  

Instead, the main speaker turned to me and began to share all he could remember in the brief time he had to take notes as he was crawling slowly by the accident scene.  (I won’t recount them here to spare hearts but let’s just say for those of us whose child left for Heaven by road accident, it was entirely. too. much.)

I looked at him and said, “That’s enough.”  He kept talking. 

I looked at him again and said, “That’s enough.  My son was killed in an accident.”  He kept talking.  

I finally raised my voice, called his name and said, “That’s enough!  Stop talking!”  He turned away like I had lost my mind.

I followed him a couple steps and said, “My son died in an accident.  I don’t want to hear those kinds of details.  Didn’t you see that I was crying?”  

His response:  “Well you asked.  No, I didn’t see you crying.”

Walked away.

Everyone heard it but no one was listening.  Everyone saw it but no one was willing to come alongside and put an arm around me.  Everyone knows about my son but knowing hasn’t sunk in deeply enough to grow seeds of compassion.

I was shaking and wanted to leave right then but didn’t.  

I’m not so tender now at five years that simply hearing about an accident upsets me.  My mind goes immediately to the family and I breathe prayers for abundant grace and mercy.  I never want others to  feel they can’t share genuine prayer requests or concerns.

But I do not want details.  I do not want a blow-by-blow nor anyone’s haughty opinion that it won’t happen to them or theirs because they “take precautions”.

I am utterly undone that after years of gently trying to help the people I worship with understand the tender places in a bereaved parent’s heart, several of them stomped all over mine.

I know words slip out.  I don’t want anyone to walk on eggshells around me. 

But I do want to be heard.  

When I tell you that I need you to stop sharing something with me, please just stop.  

Are you going to burst if you don’t let the words out?  

Probably not.  

But you might well break a bit of my heart if you don’t.  

dragging heart

Repost: Lessons in Grief-Learning to Listen

I admit it:  I’m a fixer.

It’s probably genetic (won’t mention any names!) but it has been reinforced by training and life experience.

When faced with a difficult or messy situation, my mind instantly rolls through an inventory of available resources and possible solutions.

And I tended to cut people off mid-sentence with my brilliant (?) plan to save the day.

But there are things you just can’t fix.

Read the rest here:  Lessons in Grief: Learning to Listen

Silence is a Gift

It’s hard to sit silent in an age when most of us live with noise nearly 24/7.

Out where I live, surrounded by grass and trees and plenty of room between me and my nearest neighbor, I am used to the quiet.

But it makes many folks uncomfortable.

They hasten to fill any empty airspace with chatter or nervous laughter or music or television or just about anything that means they don’t have to listen to their own thoughts.

It can be tempting, when trying to do the work grief requires to chase away the sorrow and pain with noise.

But that’s unhelpful.

Because you can’t really chase grief anywhere.  It’s inside you, part of you, with you wherever you go.

Every morning I get up, make coffee, sit down and drink in the quiet with my caffeine.  I listen for a bit and then write down what I hear my heart saying.  It has been the most effective habit for helping me walk through this Valley in the four years since Dominic left us.

Silence is necessary for a heart to do the work grief requires.

Don’t fight it.

Lean in, pen and pad at the ready, and let silence speak to your broken heart.

silence speaks

Why We Have to Tell Our Stories & Why We Need Someone to Listen

We’ve all been at the family dinner table when an elder launches into THAT story-the one that gets dragged out every holiday and several times in between.

Often our eyes roll and we exchange knowing glances with the younger set as if to say, “Here we go again!”

But we point our faces toward the speaker, lean in and lap it up.  

Because we know this story is important to her or else she wouldn’t be sharing it again.

You learn a lot about your parents and grandparents, older aunts and uncles by listening carefully to the stories that have stuck around in a head that finds it hard to remember what the body had for breakfast.

Some of the stories are wonderful.  Sweet, sweet memories of special times and special friends; of younger years and youthful dreams. 

Some of the stories are tragic.  The baby brother or sister who only lived a few days or months.  The mother that died too soon because there were no drugs to treat a common condition.  The friend that never came home from the war.

The stories are windows into souls.

our lives are stories take time to listen

Some of us have stories that need telling NOW.  We can’t wait until our age guarantees us a captive audience.

Because telling the stories helps our hearts.  

A fellow bereaved mom who has a gift for finding exquisite quotes found this one:

Sometimes I think that if it were possible to tell a story often enough to make the hurt ease up, to make the words slide down my arms and away from me like water, I would tell that story a thousand times.

~Anita Shreve, The Weight of Water

Every time I tell the story of Dominic, it helps to keep him real. 

It reminds my heart that he lived, that he mattered, that he matters still.

And in the telling, I am giving away a little bit of him for another heart to carry.  His light is passed to another soul that can pass it to another and another.

It doesn’t really take away the hurt and sorrow, but it does help me bear it.

So if I launch into the same old rendition of my favorite memories of my missing son, bear with me.

Be a witness.

Help me carry the burden.  

we all need people who will listen to our stories

 

Lessons in Grief: Learning to Listen

I admit it:  I’m a fixer.

It’s probably genetic (won’t mention any names!) but it has been reinforced by training and life experience.

When faced with a difficult or messy situation, my mind instantly rolls through an inventory of available resources and possible solutions.

And I tended to cut people off mid-sentence with my brilliant (?) plan to save the day.

But there are things you just can’t fix.

I knew that before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven but I mostly ignored it.

I can’t do that anymore.

heart leaf torn

 

So I’m learning to listen better.  Learning to let others express the hard things that can’t be fixed so that their burden is a bit lighter for the sharing.  I’m learning that silent hand holding or hugging or just looking someone in the eye instead of dodging their gaze is a great gift.

I’m learning that lending courage is possible.  One heart can actually beat in synchrony with another and the duet is musical and magical strength.

I’m learning that there are too many voices shouting “solution!” and too few ears listening to the full expression of a problem.

I’m learning that often my rush to remedy is hurtful, not helpful.

I’m learning that time does not heal all wounds-there are many among us bearing injuries that may be decades old but have never been spoken aloud because no one would listen.

we all need people who will listen to our stories

I’m learning that even the spoken stories need to be repeated often and with just as much emotion each time because the telling has a way of releasing pain all it’s own.  

I’m convinced that if we were a society of listeners who slowed down just long enough to really HEAR other people’s stories we’d be a society with much less pent up anger, bitterness and other dark emotions.

sometimes you can hurt yourself more by keeping feelings hidden

I’m embracing the old saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk”.  

Sometimes that means literally biting my tongue or placing my hand over my mouth.  

But I’m trying not to waste this hard-bought lesson.  

Need an ear?  

I’m here.  ❤

friends hugging

 

Be Present

I remember the first year cell phones became common among my children’s friends.

We hosted an event at our home and I watched, amused, as the guests realized, one by one, that there was NO cell service out here in the country.

get smart hear me now

Cut off from their electronic connection to everyone not in attendance, they were forced to be fully present with those that were.

Some of them embraced the opportunity while others bemoaned the fact they had to carry on face-to-face conversations.

And when they found out we didn’t have cable TV, well, THAT was a whole other disappointment!

What seemed natural to me and my family was unusual and uncomfortable for most of them.

Being present takes effort.

It’s so much easier to listen with one ear while pointing the other toward Facebook, YouTube, music or some other distraction.

It’s a lot harder to sit quietly through the same story you’ve heard every Christmas.  It requires self-discipline to lean in and love on that difficult aunt or uncle who can be so critical but is really so desperate for compassionate companionship. It is unnatural to lay aside our own desire to be the center of attention and make room for someone else instead.

But being present is the present only YOU can give.

wherever you are be all there

And it is the present that others will remember long after the trinket you bought them has been lost or broken.

So put down the phone. Turn off the TV.  Hide the remote and close the apps.

BE with your people.  They, and you, are a gift.

Today is a treasure that will never be repeated.  

Treat it that way.