Too Scared to Stay

How many reading this enjoy roller coasters?  Or scary movies? Or action films?

My guess is that most like one or the other or all three.

Why?  Because it’s fun to dip our emotional toe into deep water when we know we can take it out at any moment.

We experience a sort of “high” when the “fight or flight” adrenaline pumps through our veins but our minds know full well that we are in no real danger.

What’s much more difficult is to commit to experience in real time with real people the real emotional roller coaster of hard situations and unending sorrow or pain.

Then people tend to withdraw because they are too scared to stay.

I am so sorry that broken hearts are wounded further when friends or family just can’t bear the pain of watching us hurt and run away instead of walking with us.

leaf heart

They are afraid.  I used to be afraid too.  But I’m not afraid now.

My new bravery was purchased at great cost.  And I don’t want to waste it.

This Valley is teaching my heart to reach out further, quicker, more often and to stick around longer than I was willing to before.

hands-passing-heart

I want to stand with and speak courage to wounded hearts.  

I want to help healed hearts that choose to be brave and commit to walk with those in pain. 

And I am learning to extend grace to the hearts who choose to run away.   

Fear is powerful and I can’t blame them.

But for those who remain, I am so, so grateful.  

always leave people better than you found them

 

 

 

Transforming Pain

I have had my share of pain in life-physical, emotional and psychological. 

Some of it I’ve brought on myself and some of it has been thrust upon me.  

None of it was pleasant.

But by far the most excruciating pain I have endured is the death of my son.  If someone could have induced this pain for five minutes as a preview before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I would have sworn I couldn’t have withstood it for five minutes more.

Yet here I am not just minutes or months but years later.  Still standing.

How?  By the grace of God and by choosing to transform that pain into something besides just pain.

I cannot ignore the pain.  It has changed me. But I won’t let it dominate me. 

Instead I let is goad me into being a better me than I might have been if my heart were whole and unbroken.

I am gentler, more eager to listen to hurting hearts.  I am less likely to judge others and more likely to lend a helping hand.  I am committed to walk gently through this life and to cause as little harm as possible and bring as much joy as is mine to give.

I definitely walk with a limp. 

But I won’t let it stop me from walking. 

 

 

 

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

Reality Check

I’ve struggled since the beginning of this journey to convey others the ongoing open-ended emptiness of burying a child.  

There is simply no way to fill the void left by my son’s leaving.  

No job, no hobby, no ministry, no person, no exercise regimen, dietary discipline or medical intervention can fix this pain.  

So when people think I will

“get over”,

or

“move past”

my son’s death,

they profoundly misunderstand my experience.  

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

What Does Faith Really Look Like?

Is faith always a never-faltering, wild “Hallelujah!”?

I don’t think so.

I think faith is essentially this:  turning my face toward the God I love even when (especially when!) I’ve stopped expecting an answer and maybe even when my heart has despaired of help.

I would argue that faith is precisely that step forward into the dark unknown, onto the broken road, lifting  the unbearable heaviness as an offering and trusting that

God sees,

that He hears

and that He will not abandon me.

We’re all encouraged when we read through Psalms. But what did David endure to experience the depth of love he has for God? What kind of heart-shredding pain did he go through before understanding how real and present God was and just how much God loved him regardless of his brokenness?

Understanding the whole story of the Bible, it’s much easier to see that my brokenness has a purpose.”

~Laura Story, When God Doesn’t Fix It

faith-deliberate-trust

Time Travel

This may come as a shock to my city-dwelling readers, but there is not a UPS store on every corner in rural Alabama.

In fact, there isn’t one in the whole county where I live. 

So when I had to return something with a prepaid label,  the nearest place to do it was up the highway and off an exit that I probably haven’t taken in a decade.  After dropping the package, on a whim, I scooted across the street to the Winn Dixie store for just a minute.

As soon as I entered, I knew I’d made a dreadful mistake.  The store had not changed even a little in the years and years since I was last there.  

And the last time I was there was with all four children.  

Those were the days when we piled into our Suburban and did marathon shopping runs to take advantage of every sale in one day.  My kids were experts at finding the right size item specified on whatever coupons we might be using to drop the price even further.  I would dispatch the boys to get heavier things as I went up and down the aisles loading the buggy with canned goods.

So when I walked in and the store even SMELLED the same, I was instantly transported to those days.  I could almost hear the laughter of my sons, see my daughter next to me and feel that blessed togetherness I cherished even then but long for painfully, desperately NOW.  

I’m not sure that my heart didn’t stop for just a second or two.  I know I held my breath.

It was both beautiful to remember and more painful than I could have imagined.

I was utterly unprepared for the grief wave that swept over my heart.

I forced myself to walk slowly to grab the item I needed.  I got in line, made small talk with a friendly customer and a chatty cashier.  And then I practically ran out the door and to my truck in an attempt to escape the sadness.

At home, I let the tears fall.  Sat in silence and gathering darkness and let myself FEEL all the feels.

I am oh, so grateful for every single moment I can remember but oh, so sad there won’t be any more.

it has been said that time heals all wounds rose kennedy clock

 

 

 

 

Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

“Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?  How do you take into account the circumstances of a death, the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, trauma surrounding the event or any of a dozen other things that influence how long and how deeply one grieves a loss?

Obviously there are certain signs that someone needs professional help, medication or intervention.  If a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, acting out in ways that harm or threaten harm to themselves or others, or is experiencing depression or uncontrollable anxiety then please, please, PLEASE get them to a doctor who can diagnose and treat them.

But for the rest of us, “normal” grief covers a wide variety of behaviors, feelings, attitudes and timelines:

Posting photos or videos of our missing child is normal.  It’s the last visual link we have to someone we can no longer see.

Mentioning my son in conversation is normal.  I mention my other children and his life is still intertwined with ours.

Crying-even years or decades after the loss-is NORMAL  Grief waves can hit with tsunami force from out of nowhere and slam me to the ground. The only thing I can do then is let them wash over and around me until they pass.

Keeping space for my son in my home, at my table, in my heart and on holidays is normal.  Some parents do this with a special candle, photo or ritual. Some do it with a stuffed animal or other item that represents their child. Some do it with words or deeds of kindness done in honor of the missing one.  No one has sat in Dominic’s space at my table in these three years.  It’s my silent witness to his ongoing influence and irreplaceable presence in our family circle.

Keeping a room exactly as it was is normal.  Boxing everything up is also normal.  Every heart is different and every heart has to decide what helps it heal.

Sleeplessness is normal.  Some parents never return to pre-loss sleep patterns.  I wake every morning at about the time the deputy came to our door.  Every now and then, if I am extremely tired, I may fall back asleep for an hour or two.  Sleeping the day away is normal, too.  Sleep may be a welcome relief to a weary heart and some parents find that when they can, they sleep a lot.  (Note:  if this continues for days or weeks, please check with your doctor about the possibility of depression.)

Anxiety is, sadly, VERY normal.  The worst has actually happened and that makes the possibility that it could happen again oh, so real.  Anxiety may well spread to things that seem to have no relationship to loss.  It’s also normal to have a “devil may care” attitude. The worst has actually happened, so what could be worse?  Might as well live life to the full.

Withdrawal is normal.  So is over-scheduling and staying busy.  Both are ways someone may try to deal with heartbreak.

You don’t have to be “stuck” in grief to still feel the pain and have it continue to affect your life.

I am and have been highly functional since the morning the deputy arrived with the news of my son’s fatal motorcycle accident.

But I am a very different “me” than I was before that doorbell rang.

Some things I can’t do anymore. Some things I do differently and some things are brand new and I have only done them since he left us.

Labels are rarely helpful when applied to people.

Every person is unique, every relationship unique and every situation unique.

And every grief journey will be unique as well.

roller coaster 2 better image