Learning To Trust God Again After Loss

I am sharing from the perspective of child loss but the things God is teaching me have much broader application. If you are struggling because you feel like God has let you down, please read on.  And please read the posts that follow this one.

God welcomes us to the divine dinner table to talk things out.

Join us.

If you’ve read the blog for very long, you’ve learned two things about me:  (1) I am up front and honest about my feelings, my doubts, my faith and my heart; and (2) I’m not afraid to explore topics that often make the church uncomfortable. 

So here I am again.

A few months ago I was asked to speak at a conference for bereaved parents and to take the topic of “Learning to Trust God Again After Loss”.  I agreed, thinking that since I had already written extensively about this very thing, organizing my previously published musings would be easy enough to gather into a presentation.

through this valley conference photo

But when I began trying to do that, I realized the bits and pieces needed an overarching narrative and theme to tie them together.  I knew that LISTENING is very different than READING where you can go back and access the information over and over to make sure you understand what’s being said.

And I was operating on thin margins.

The weeks I planned on using to prepare were overtaken by a family emergency.  So just two days before I was to leave home for Arkansas I was nearly paralyzed by panic-how in the world could I present a coherent message on such an important topic when I was having trouble stringing sentences together in everyday conversation?

But God…

Two words that are worth holding on to.  

He gave me the framework.  He gave me the words.  He gave me the examples and the courage and the strength.

flesh-and-heart-may-failSo for the next few days I’ll be sharing from my notes-putting into writing what I shared at the conference.  Here I have the luxury of time and editing.

If you were there, I hope these posts can remind your heart of truth. 

If you weren’t, I hope these posts can introduce your heart to truth.

It’s OK to doubt.  It’s OK to ask questions.  It’s OK to wonder if God sees you, hears you and cares about you.

That is part of the work we must do in grief.  

It cannot be ignored and it cannot be rushed. 

Come with me as we walk this Valley together, learning to trust our Shepherd again. 

shepherd 2

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

 

Vocabulary Lesson: Learning the Language of Grief and Loss

How do you speak of the unspeakable?

How do you constrain the earth-shattering reality of child loss to a few syllables?

How do you SAY what must be said?

I remember the first hour after the news.  I had to make phone calls.  Had to confirm my son’s identity and let family know what had happened.

I used the only words I had at the time, “I have to tell you something terrible. Dominic is dead.”

Over, and over, and over.

Until others could pick up the chant and spread it to the ends of the earth.

And then silence.

Such a deep wound requires silence.  Because there are no words for the ache inside a mother’s heart, the pain that burrows into her bones, the sorrow that sucks the breath from her body.

It was some months before I found a community of bereaved parents who began to give me a vocabulary for my experience.

And it was more than helpful, it was liberating!

break-the-chains

As I began to speak aloud what was hidden inside, it broke chains I didn’t realize held me hostage.

As long as my feelings are secret, they trap my heart and mind in an endless cycle of regret, fear, sorrow, pain and anxiety.  When I speak them aloud, I can recognize them and fight them and overpower them.  And when I share them,  I find that I am not alone.

Others come alongside and say, “Me too!”  Validation makes me stronger. Understanding makes me brave.

me too sharing the path

I hate the fact that my son is dead.

I hate the pain that his death has inflicted on me and on my family.

There are days I wish I could run away and hide, that I could pretend this never happened, that I could undo the broken that permeates my life.

But I can’t.

There’s no way through but through.  I have to face the awful truth, I have to consider the ways it is changing me and remaking who I am.

I need words to process the pain because that’s how I can disarm its power over me.

It’s tempting to try to ignore the hard parts of our stories thinking that we are getting away from them.

But we aren’t.

The harder the season, the more profound the wound or bitter the struggle the more time it takes to process.

The first step is learning the words and finding community in which to speak them.

healthy-heart

Here are links to three online communities for bereaved parents:

While We’re Waiting-Support for Bereaved Parents

Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child

TCF-Loss of a Child (The Compassionate Friends)

If you have lost a child and are looking for a place to learn the language of grief and loss, a safe space to share your pain with others who understand it, see if one of these groups might be the place for you.

 

 

Trying To Be Brave

A few weeks ago I came face to face with a fear I thought I had under control.

Hurrying, one of my kids almost ran a red light with every surviving family member in the car.

In that moment all my fears of losing another someone I love bubbled to the surface.  I reacted.  My child reacted. And ugly oozed out all over the place.

I hated it.  And I was so, so sorry.

I am trying to be brave.  I am trying to not be afraid of what MAY happen and cherish what IS happening.

I love each of my children-the one that has run ahead to heaven and the ones that walk the earth with me.  That love makes me brave.

I will not waste the time I have with them worrying about what MIGHT happen.

I will not allow the enemy of my soul to steal my joy, kill my passion for life or destroy my relationship with my living children.

courage and perseverance

 

It is a lot of work and it’s exhausting.  

But it’s worth the fight.

I won’t give up. 

 

 

The Forgotten Ones: Grieving Siblings

I am always afraid that Dominic will be forgotten.  

I’m afraid that as time passes, things change and lives move forward, his place in hearts will be squeezed smaller and smaller until only a speck remains.

Not in my heart, of course.

Or in the hearts of those closest to him, but in general-he will become less relevant.

But he is not the only one who can be forgotten.  I am just as fearful that my living children will be forgotten.

Not in the same way-they are HERE.

They are participating in life and making new memories, new connections and strengthening old ones.

I’m afraid their grief will be overlooked, unacknowledged-swept under the giant rug of life and busyness that seems to cover everything unpleasant or undervalued.

If the course of a bereaved parent’s grief is marked by initial outpouring of concern, comfort and care followed by the falling away of friends, family and faithful companionship then that of a bereaved sibling is doubly so.

Surviving children often try to lessen a grieving parent’s burden by acting as if “everything is OK”.

But it’s not-it is definitely NOT.

missing them from your side

Their world has been irrevocably altered.  They have come face-to-face with mortality, with deep pain, with an understanding that bad things happen-happen to people they love-without warning and without remedy.

They are forced to rethink their family, their faith and their future without a life-long friend and companion.

Part of their history is gone.

If surviving children are young, it can be so, so easy to mistake the natural enthusiasm and excitement of youth for complete healing.  They are often busy with events, education, work and life and the grief they still feel may go unnoticed-even by themselves.

But they need safe, consistent and compassionate care while they navigate grief and the enduring impacts of sibling loss.  School counselors, grief counselors or mature and emotionally stable adult friends can be very helpful during this process.

It’s important to be alert to danger signals.  Behavioral impacts may present in many ways:

  • Anxiety (situational, tests, generalized)
  • Risk taking
  • Isolation
  • Inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Depression
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Poor grades (may have given up or may not be able to concentrate)
  • Extreme concern for other family members and their safety

If you observe any of these changes, get help.  A grieving parent is rarely able to be the sole source of intensive counsel for a bereaved child-someone outside the grief circle may be a better choice.

Adult children-even those married and with kids of their own-are also changed forever by saying “good-bye” to a brother or sister.  Addiction, depression and physical health issues can surface in the wake of loss.  

It’s not always easy to connect the dots back to grief since life is full of stress and strain and they may need help.

My children have been blessed to have friends and loved ones who give them a safe place to go when grief overwhelms them or when other stressors on top of grief make life really hard.

If you know a bereaved sibling:

  • Reach out.
  • Be an encourager.
  • Don’t assume that because time has gone by, they are all better.
  • They may not want to talk about it and that’s OK.  But if they do, listen.  Without platitudes, without judgement-just be a safe place.
  • And if you notice something that’s just not “quite right” try to get them the help they may need to make it through this hard place.

Bereaved families are often doing the best they can, but they can’t do it alone.  

When you bless my earthly children, you bless me.  When you give them space to grieve, you give me space to breathe. When you encourage them, you encourage my heart too.

Don’t forget them.  

Please.