No More “Quiet Mouse” For Me

Believe me, I’ve imposed my share of“Quiet Mouse” on my own kids through the years.

Raising four close-in-age siblings, sometimes that was the only way to make the last five miles home without losing my mind.

But the premise of the game is really this:  I’m bigger, I’m stronger, I’m in control and you are not-so shut up.

Even if you have something important to say.  

Even if you feel like you will burst wide open if you have to hold it in.

No excuses allowed.  Just. Be. Quiet.

quiet_as_a_mouse (2)
Peace at all costs.

I’ve been a quiet mouse for most of my life when it comes to standing up for myself.

Now, advocating for my children or for someone unable to fend for themselves-that’s another story.  But somewhere in my formative years I embraced the message that the most important thing in the world was to keep the peace.

Even if you have something important to say.

Even if you feel like you will burst wide open if you have to hold it in.

No excuses allowed.  Just. Be. Quiet.

But all this emotional turmoil I’ve been feeling since Dominic left us has uncovered layer after layer of brokenness, pain and untold stories.  His death lifted the lid on the vault that had been sealed for decades.

Emotions are flying out like genies.

genie-lamp

And I’ve come to understand that peace at all costs-when the costs are borne by a single individual in a relationship-is not peace. 

It’s slavery.

I also realize that not every friendship and family tie is a mission field on which I must spill my life’s blood to prove my love for Jesus.

Sometimes laying down simply enables bad behavior and encourages bullying and disrespect.  

angry-man-pointing-finger

I want to walk in love.  Always. 

But love does not mean I must allow other people to walk all over me.  

I don’t plan to. 

No more “Quiet Mouse” for me.

not-required-set-yourself-on-fire-life-daily-quotes-sayings-pictures

How Can I Survive Grief Anniversaries?

There are more than you might think.  

Most folks would count the date of death and maybe the date of burial or memorial service.

But a mama’s heart counts it ALL.

I count the day he left, the day I was first able to view his body, the days of visitation, the day of the funeral and burial.

  • I count the day we cleaned out his apartment.
  • I count the day I notified credit card companies he would no longer require their services.
  • I count the day I received the death certificate.
  • I count the day I got his posthumous diploma.

And every year these dates roll around again to remind my heart of the pain I felt then and to pierce it afresh. 

grief as timeless as love

So how does a heart survive all these grief anniversaries?  How can I navigate the minefield of emotions and triggers that only I can see?

I believe the first step is to embrace them and not try to deny them. 

 

Earl-Grollman-grief-is-not-a-disorder

I remember the horror I felt when I realized I had survived 365 days since the deputy came to my door when I was certain I wouldn’t make it through the first 24 hours.  It did not feel like victory, it felt like betrayal.  

How in the world could my broken heart keep beating if I truly loved my son?

I cannot, by force of will, fend off the feelings that are sure to invade my heart when it recognizes that another year has passed.  

The most important thing is to have a plan, I think. That way it doesn’t slam you against the wall unawares. The feelings are impossible to outrun, but having a plan means you are anticipating them and in a kind of “fighting stance”.

The plan might be to go away or to go to the cemetery or other spot that evokes strong connection to your child.  It might be an elaborate gathering that includes friends or family or just lighting a candle next to a photograph.  Your heart may insist you stay in bed all day, covers over your head and wait out the ticking moments.

I think each family has to approach the day however makes sense to them. There is certainly no “right” way or “easy” way to do it.

no right way to grieve

I am sorry you have to do it at all.

Here’s the truth:  even THAT day will only last 24 hours. Just like the awful day when your child left you.

However you manage to survive is fine. 

mother and child paintingYou are not abandoning your missing child if you don’t make a big public display.  You are not forgetting him or her if you let go of some of these grief anniversaries over time-you are learning to carry the load.  You are not a bad parent if you choose a getaway to distract your heart from the pain.

You are coping the best you can-choosing to carry on.  

And that makes you awesome and brave.  

courage is always an act of love

 

How Can I Deal With Anxious Thoughts?

I no longer have to imagine the worst thing that could happen in the life of a mother-I know exactly how it feels. 

And if I allow my heart to ponder that too often or too long, it consumes me.

So I am learning to take those anxious thoughts captive, learning to make them live in only a small corner of my mind instead of taking it over completely.

It takes effort and discipline, but it’s possible.  

I don’t have to live the rest of my days a quivering mess…

Read the rest here:  Dealing With Anxious Thoughts

Step Back, Don’t React

It is possible not to react to every single thing someone says or does.  It is possible to scroll past social media posts that get under your skin and not look back.  It is possible to ignore a snarky comment or an unhelpful piece of advice from someone who ACTS like they know what you’re going through but really has. no. idea.  

Now if you are new on this journey, you will read these first few lines and think, “Is this woman crazy????” 

I felt EXACTLY the same way in the first months and even through the first couple years in this Valley.

But, I will tell you this:  the sooner you can embrace the habit of practicing the pause, the sooner you will begin to feel like you have some control in your world again.

And isn’t that one of the things we crave after the tsunami of child loss sweeps over our lives-order, control, a sense of purpose and direction?

It’s hard. 

Really, really hard not to react against every arrow shot into my wounded heart.  Even when I know it was an accident and the offense is collateral damage, it still hurts.

But I’ve found that if I just take a single, deep breath I can put a bit of distance between the oomph of the impact and my reaction.  And there is actually power in choosing to ignore offense.

Because then I am in control, not the person lobbing the arrows. 

just-breathe

So what do I do in the split-second it takes to draw in that preparatory breath?  I consider the source.  I think (quickly) about my ongoing relationship with this person, what’s happening in THEIR life and why they might have said or done what they said or did.

Is it ignorance?  Is it sloppy choice of words?  Is it due to stress in his life?  Is she just worn out and not thinking?

And I decide:  is reacting to THIS particular exchange worth damaging the relationship?

Is it worth the negative emotional energy that I will have to expend?

Is it something I can overlook and move past?

Most of the time the answer is, “yes”.  I CAN let it go.  It’s not that big of a deal.  It is not a fair representation of our relationship and it is certainly not worth ruining a friendship.

I’m not just doing THEM  a favor.  I’m doing ME a favor.

choose to respond

I’m not “letting them off the hook”.  I may actually revisit the issue later on, when emotions aren’t running high. 

But I have learned that I only have so much emotional energy to expend in this Valley.  So much of it is already absorbed in carrying the missing and sorrow and reining in my own outrageous feelings that I just don’t need to waste the rest on trivial things.

So I don’t (most of the time). 

Practicing the pause helps me do that. 

It gives me control. 

There is far too little of that this side of child loss.

So I will take what I can get. 

boundaries control react

Why I Have To Talk It Out

I admit I’m full of words.  When my mama came to pick me up when her best friend was babysitting for awhile, she said, “You can’t have her yet, she’s telling me all kinds of things!”

More than once my mouth got me in trouble.

It’s still the source of most of my problems.

But for a time after Dominic left I found that the only words I could muster beyond what was absolutely necessary were written in my journal.  Because the words I wanted to say were bitter and harsh and tasted bad as they came up my throat and threatened to roll off my tongue.

I didn’t want to tell the story of that early morning knock.  I didn’t want to speak aloud the terror that gripped my soul, the literal shattering of my heart, the unholy darkness that enveloped me.

I HAD to make phone calls.  I was forced to say, “Dominic is dead” over and over and over.  Then I wanted to hide in silence and stay on the fringe of conversations that filled our home and the church before we buried him.

It seemed easier to swallow the words than taste them.

But I couldn’t do that forever.

Eventually the words began to rot inside me and make the pain even worse.  I had to let them out.  I had to talk about it.  All of it.

The actual events.

The feelings associated with the accident.

The pain of choosing a cemetery plot, a casket, an order of service, of writing an obituary, of burying my son.

The awful emptiness that one life missing makes in a family of six.

The fact that at some point I woke from the stupor enough to wonder how the God I had worshiped for all these years let this happen.

And I needed someone to listen.  I needed someone to be a witness to my words.  It was no longer enough to write them down, wrap them up and hide them away.

They had to be spoken so that the power they had over my soul could be broken.

business-authenticity

Thank God for people who are willing to listen!  

I have friends and family who let me recite the same thing over and over and over so that each telling helps my heart toward healing.

I have several online and in-person communities of bereaved parents who do the same (and more!) because they understand precisely how I feel and can offer hope from their own stories of healing. *

Listening is love in action.

If you know someone whose heart carries great grief-and child loss is not the only hard journey hearts are makingoffer to listen. 

Give up a few minutes to hear how they are really doing, what is really hard, what they really need to say but may be afraid to speak aloud.  Leave spaces in conversation so a heart can work up the courage to share.  Don’t be quick to offer platitudes that shut down deep discussion.  

It often takes many, many repetitions of traumatic events for a heart to begin to heal. 

And each time you grant someone permission to share and listen to his or her story, you are applying balm to a weary soul.  ❤

listening is a postive act

 

*Here are two online closed communities for bereaved parents:   While We’re Waiting Support for Bereaved Parents  Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child

The Compassionate Friends offers in-person support groups around the country.

GriefShare also holds classes and offers in-person support.  Check online for availability in your area.

 

 

 

Grounding Exercise for Anxiety

Grief has a traveling companion:  Anxiety.  And it is relentless.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I had no idea that along with sorrow, missing and heartache, I would have to battle a creeping sense of dread that could turn an ordinary day into a nightmare.

I’ve learned to plan ahead and minimize triggers I can identify, but sometimes I find myself suddenly overwhelmed with no easy means of escape.

That’s when I apply this technique.

It is amazingly effective and can be done anytime, anywhere without another soul even knowing I’m doing it.

I begin by taking five deep breaths-often I will place my hand on my diaphragm to remind me to breathe deeply.

Then I find:

  • five things I can see;
  • four things I can touch (I don’t have to touch them but if I can, it helps-even my own fingertips or my shirt or purse);
  • three things I can hear;
  • two things I can smell;
  • one thing I can taste.

I use my fingers to silently count down the list. 

While it doesn’t always erase my anxious feelings, it always tames them. 

Taking charge and taking action (even silent, mental action) helps give my heart the space it needs to regroup and reassess the actual “danger” my body is responding to.

Try it.  It’s easy.  It’s free.  And it works.

grounding exercise fall trees

Trying to Hold off the Holidays

Here they come round the bend like a pack of dogs chasing that rabbit on a racetrack.

No way to slow them down, no way to step to the side and ward off the relentless message that Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming soon-so, so soon.

Stores scream, “You’ve got to buy it NOW!  You’re running out of time!”

Billboards, radio and television ads, and calendars count down the days.

Decorations assault my eyes and ears and nose (thank you pumpkin everything!).  I cannot get away.  There’s no where to hide.

pumpkin spice

So I have decided to take the offensive.  I will do the things that must be done as quickly, as efficiently and as quietly as possible.

I am sending Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards.  I like the fall colors better than traditional yuletide hues anyway.  No one says the yearly update letter has to be postmarked in December.

Our gift-giving is much simpler now than before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  I’m less inclined to wrap dozens of presents to pile under the tree and more likely to give cash or gift cards along with a heartfelt note.   So I will get all this together before the weather warrants a fire here in the Deep South.

I’m easily overwhelmed.

And too much of anything just seems like entirely. too. much.

Instead of loads of decorating that involves changing out all the everyday with holiday, I will put out a few bright things and lots of candles.

glowing candles huff post

Flickering light in approaching darkness speaks hope to my heart.

I will concentrate on people, not on things.  I am making space on the calendar for casual conversation instead of constant motion.

I won’t be swept along by the yuletide current, struggling for air, barely making it to January and glad the holidays are over.

Sip and savor.

That’s my motto.

I’m sticking to it.

coffee cup fall leaves