Loving Well: Just Say His Name

I know you are afraid.

You think that speaking his name or sharing a memory or sending me a photo will add to my sorrow.

I understand.

But even when it costs me a split second of sharp pain, it is truly a gift to know that Dominic lives on in the hearts and minds of others.  It gives me courage to speak too.  It creates space where I can honor my son.

It helps keep him alive.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” ~Banksy

I know you’re busy.  I know your life is full and bustling with so many people and activities demanding attention that you don’t have any to spare.

It is easy to forget.

He wasn’t your child. The date of his homegoing isn’t etched into the marrow of your bones, it isn’t scribed on the inside of your eyelids.

Every time the calendar screams “12” I make one more chalkmark on my heart counting the days since I saw him last.

But please remember.  Please don’t let the day slip by and not acknowledge that it is as important a milestone to me and my family as his birthday.

I know you’re scared.

Death is scary.  Even for us who trust Jesus.  And the death of a child just trashes the notion that we are in control, that we can fully protect the ones we love from all harm.

But you are frightened of what you cannot comprehend.

I am living the reality of your greatest fear.

Be brave.  Step out and welcome me in.

Give space for the longing to hear my son’s name, to know my son matters, to relive some of the happy moments and funny times and even some of the hard days.

I can sit by myself and remember him.

But sharing him with you breathes life into the recollection and speaks hope to my heart.

It fuels the fire that helps me see that even when I’m not here to carry him into the land of those still living, someone else will do it for me.

Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.

—Anonymous

 

 

 

 

Love: The Reason I Grieve

If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.
—James O’Barr

I grieve because I love.

My tears are a gift to the son I miss.  My sorrow honors his memory.  My broken heart gives evidence to the ones walking with me that my love is fierce and timeless.

This love isn’t the romantic, gushy, flowers-and-chocolate love celebrated on Valentine’s Day–but the deep, abiding, sacrificial love that brands a mother’s soul.

The love that began in the first moments of knowing I would welcome a new child into our home.  The love that stayed away from certain foods and suffered through colds without medicine because there was LIFE inside of me–my body was no longer mine alone.

The love that poured forth nourishment from breasts and lived the first months at the mercy of his appetite.

The love that did without sleep–because what is a little rest compared to being solace for my crying child?

I would give anything for my children.  Even my own life.

But in the end, I didn’t have that choice.

Watching the young mother with her infant, the older mama and her child at play in a park, the joy and pride of the even older woman as her son or daughter graduates high school, college or gets married–how could anyone think a mother’s grief could be small?

How can all the love and all the hopes and all the dreams of a mama’s heart be squeezed into days or weeks or months of tears and sorrow?

If my son had lived, the rest of my life would not have been long enough to pour out the love I have for him.

It is not nearly long enough for me to show my surviving children how very much I cherish them.

So my grief will be large and lifelong–as big and unbounded as my love.  

It cannot be anything less.

Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.

—Earl Grollman

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Well: Transitioning From “Good-bye” to Grief

A funeral or memorial service seems like a final chapter.  We close the coffin, close the doors and everyone goes home.

But for bereaved parents and their surviving children, it’s not an end, it is a beginning.

Much like a wedding or birth serves as the threshold to a new way of life, a new commitment, a new understanding of who you are, burying a child does the same.

I walked away from the cemetary overwhelmed by the finality of death–not in a theological sense–I believe firmly that my son lives with Jesus–but with the undeniable fact that he is no longer available to me on this earth.

And in the days afterward, I was struck by the inadequacy of a funeral or memorial service to make space for the deep and ongoing sense of loss and pain and sorrow.

There is a difference between mourning and grief.  Although before losing Dominic I never bothered to notice.

I think we confuse the two on a regular basis.  I know I did.

Mourning is defined as “the outward signs and rituals associated with sorrow for a person’s death.  It is usually limited in time by social conventions or community expectations”.   

Mourning is the more or less public (depending on the family’s choices) “Good-bye” to their loved one.  It’s a circumscribed set of things we do and time we spend welcoming others into the space where we remember, make final arrangements for a body and celebrate the life that has left us.

In most North American communities, we have dispensed with the tradition of draping pictures, windows and ourselves for six months to a year to mark the home and heart of someone who has suffered loss.

What used to be a longer span of time allowing for special accommodations due to grief has now been squeezed into about two weeks.

Our hyper-drive world insists that even parents who bury a child show up to work, begin to participate and act like they have it “together” in public much sooner than our frail human bodies and broken hearts can manage.

Grief is more than a feeling.  It invades your heart, your mind, your body and your soul

Grief is the deep and poignant distress caused by bereavement..

It cannot be circumscribed by time and refuses to limit itself according to the expectations of others or even myself.  It will last (though perhaps not with the same intensity) as long as I live.

Because unlike a funeral, missing my son will not come to an end until I am reunited with him in heaven.

And we need to talk about this.

We need to help ourselves and others understand that grief changes who we are.  It changes how we perceive the world.  It alters our sense of self and impacts our relationships with others.

I am not as fragile as I was just weeks or months after Dominic’s death.  I have learned to put on a smile and pass by his favorite food in the grocery store without crying.  I can remember funny things he said or did without simultaneously experiencing gut-wrenching pain that he is no longer here to do them.

But I am still grieving.  

I am still working out how this missing is weaving itself into the fabric of who I am.

And it is WORK.

Much of the work I have to do on my own–I have to think about and feel and embrace the changes that have been thrust upon me.  But for some of the work, I need the help of others.  I need to be able to speak aloud my thoughts and feelings and receive feedback so that I’m not stuck in unfruitful inner dialogue.

It requires energy and resources.

While I am doing this grief work, my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy is largely consumed by it.  I am unavailable more often.  I have a smaller capacity to absorb sudden change and unexpected events. I’m uncomfortable in crowds.  I tire more easily.

And it takes TIME.  

I have discovered that no matter how much I want to speed up this process, it will not be hurried along.  And it proceeds in a “two-steps-forward-one-step-back” fashion so even when I feel I am making progress, I discover I’m not as far along as I think I am or would like to be.

So how to love well at this stage in my grief journey?  When I’m transitioning from “good-bye” to grief?  When I’m trying to understand this new life I never expected to live?

  • Acknowledge my ongoing pain and struggle.
  • Encourage me by allowing me to share honestly.
  • Be patient.  I want to heal but I don’t have control over how long it will take.
  • Don’t shut me out or shut me down.  Grief is uncomfortable for both of us.
  • Remember my son.  I need to know that others miss him too.

Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].

Romans 12:15 AMP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extravagant Love: Tales of Friendship and Encouragement After Losing a Child

When I asked other bereaved parents to share the things people did that blessed them in the wake of losing a child, I didn’t expect so many stories of extravagant love–of acts surpassing anything I could have thought of or imagined.

“After my daughter passed, which was minutes before Mother’s Day 2012, outside the hospital room, my son gave me a handmade Mother’s Day card that he somehow found time to make in all of the chaos. The card spoke of my daughter, me being her mother, and included a beautiful poem he had written that tugged so strongly at the heartstrings. Oh my heart!”

“A couple who had lost their son years earlier, drove two hours just to come and sit with us.  A dear friend took over my life for the next couple of weeks.”

“On my son’s first anniversary date of his passing, a friend of mine organized a candle light vigil outside our house that night. We didn’t know anything about it. When we walked outside our front door that night, there were people on our lawn with candles”.

“One phone call by the Abbott to our church and everyone who needed to know, knew. We didn’t have to make the calls. And the youth pastor, children’s pastor, and each child’s best friend made it to our house within moments of our kids getting the news. Held them while they screamed. Stayed for hours.”

“I was most grateful to the hospice worker who offered to pack up the hospital room for us and deliver our belongings back to us at home.”

“My pastors wife said ‘lean into your grief, and onto the Lord’–these words carry me to this day, almost 7 years later.  My sister came over, and never left my side until after the funeral.”

“My daughter was in a car accident. The owner of the house where the accident was came out held her hand and prayed with her. I am so grateful to him for giving her peace at that moment.”

“A coworker came and she did not come empty-handed, she brought two things: a box of tissues and a bottle of wine. I was grateful for both. She sat and cried with me and I didn’t feel like I had to be brave or consider other people’s feelings if I was breaking down. She didn’t try to hug me or shush me when I would cry– she’d just cried with me, handed me tissues, and she would pour glasses of wine and we would talk and laugh and cry. There was another young lady who came looking for my youngest son who has just lost his only brother and he had locked himself away in his room she pulled us all together and taught us how to play a card game none of us knew how to play.  But it was such a good distraction and it pulled my son out of his self-imposed isolation.”

“To give you some background: it was the summer before my son’s freshman year and we lived in a tourist town on the coast. We were coming back from the bigger hospital he had been transported to. When we crossed the bridge to our hometown, we came up on a group of teenagers. Hundreds of kids and some adults had begun a candlelight walk on the sidewalk that runs pretty much the whole town of Emerald Isle, NC. People just kept coming. It was amazing. Even the tourists were moved by this impromptu event. The kids sent out the message through social media.”

“I have a long distance friend who has written a psalm a day. It’s been 3 months and she’s still sending them.”

“We also had a lady at the church quietly give us random care packages over the months. No words, just thought. It is very sweet.”

“My son was an avid reader and a friend of mine had bookmarks made with his picture and the footsteps poem on the back to distribute at the viewing. I will cherish that gift forever.”

“One of our son’s best friends somehow managed to have HUNDREDS of rubber bracelets made up that had his name and life verse embossed on them, and he gave them to people at the reception following the memorial. At the time, I thought, ‘That’s nice, but what are we going to do with them?’  I still see people wearing them, and when anyone asks me about mine, I tell his story and give it away.”

“At the cemetery after the graveside service I was having a very difficult time leaving. I knew I could not stand to watch the casket being lowered into the ground yet I could not bring myself to leave. A dear friend and a fellow pediatric cancer mother offered to stay at the cemetery until our son was buried. Long after everyone left she offered to stay until the end. As crazy as this sounds I knew my son would not be alone and I was able to leave knowing that someone was with him.”

“Our family has had a “secret angel” who every month on the 20th which is the day of our son’s passing has brought a red bag and left it on our porch. Inside the red bag has been something small for our family or something for the foundation that we started in our son’s name. It’s never been about the gift received but about someone remembering our son…every month for 5 years and 5 months we have received one of these bags. It has meant a lot to our family and truly has helped us to heal.”

“A hairdresser friend cut a lock of my daughter’s hair (with our permission). She placed some in heart shaped lockets along with meaningful small charms (think Origami Owl). We treasure these pieces.”

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. When we lost Dominic, there were many who blessed us in ways that I can only describe as offerings poured into our lives from the bountiful love of Christ:

It was important to me that we held the funeral in a church and not a funeral home. Even though it meant making accommodations in a busy Easter weekend service schedule, we were made to feel welcome–we had visitation for four hours on Easter Sunday evening.

Three churches participated in making food and hosting a meal after the burial.  The Body of Christ worked in unity to bless us.

Like many parents, I had never considered where I would bury my child. But local pastors graciously guided our family through procurring a burial plot just a mile from our house. Even though I firmly believe that Dominic is not there–just the empty shell that once housed his essence–it comforts me to know he’s not far from home.

Dominic’s friends from The University of Alabama School of Law quietly arranged for me to receive his diploma posthumously.  Dominic was honored during the ceremony and his name was called along with his classmates at graduation.  I will cherish their kindness as long as I live.

I believe that God honors these offerings.

I believe He smiles when His children love one another in sacrificial and extravagant ways.

I believe it is a fragrant aroma, wafting to heaven and drawing others near to the foot of the cross.

[Jesus said] “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”

John 13:34-35 AMP

Repost: Loving a Grieving Heart

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way we who have encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate.  And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

 

 

Love Wins

“So then, whatever you desire that others would do to and for you, even so do also to and for them” -Jesus

Jesus taught that I should do to and for others what I desire they do to and for me.

But my heart is deceitful and it quickly turns my Lord’s command into a conditional suggestion–do to and for others IF they are nice, IF they reciprocate, IF they look like me, agree with me and don’t make me angry or uncomfortable.

But if God had been of the same mind I would be hopelessly lost–Jesus died for me while I was yet His enemy.nobody is as they should be brennan manning

True love is extravagant, costly and abundant.  If I am to authentically reflect the Father’s love there can be no exceptions, no limits.

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.

Colossians 1:21 MSG

That’s the standard.

And it doesn’t always look like a heroic rescue–it is most often a smile, a touch, an outreached hand or an open heart.

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

The genuine compassion and extravagant love of friends and family have been my most treasured gifts since losing Dominic.

“Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

love one another gif

Where there is love there is life and light.

Death and darkness don’t stand a chance.

Love wins.

Buying Time?

It’s been awhile since I braved the crowds and participated in the shopping frenzy known as “Black Friday” looking for a great bargain or the perfect present.

In years past, my mother, my daughter and I would wake up before the sun, slip out into the cold morning, hit two or three stores for a special gift and then head to a breakfast buffet to recuperate.

breakfast-buffet

I can’t remember a single purchase, but I remember the laughter and conversation and comraderie.

Losing a child puts lots of things in perspective.

Like memories and time.

Time is the only thing in life that moves in one direction.  From birth to death in a straight line.

This season has most of us rushing from one place to another, squeezing in another activity, seeking just the right something to put under the Christmas tree.  We start the day after Thanksgiving and hurry into December, and suddenly the month is gone, the days have fled.

Ask any parent who has buried a child what they want most in the world and they will not hesitate–another heartbeat, another second, another opportunity to say, “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or “Thank you”.

All the world’s wealth won’t buy even one extra minute–the ticking clock is no respecter of persons. 

think-you-have-time

I cannot buy time, I can only spend it.

We all trade this life for something–a unique transaction–no refunds, no exchanges.

It’s up to me to choose…what am I going to trade it for?

My life for love?  

Or stuff?

No contest.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

Love never dies. I Corinthians 13:1-2, 8 MSG

 

love deeply2