Bereaved Parents Month 2020: Friends and Family Can Anchor a Heart


Child loss rips through a life like a tornado-wild, unpredictable, viciously destructive.

It drops from the sky like a meteorite-no warning, no defense, just crushing weight.

It wrecks havoc in absolutely every corner of a bereaved parents’ heart and life.

Read the rest here: Child Loss: Friends and Family Can Anchor a Heart

Why Bereaved Parents Month?

There are so many competing causes it’s a wonder anyone can keep up with them.

But when one or more of them become near and dear to your heart, it’s easy.

July is Bereaved Parents Month. A designation I knew nothing about until several years into my own journey as a bereaved parent.

And while I’m unsure about the necessity for declarations like National Trivia Day or National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day I am absolutely convinced of the need for Bereaved Parents Month.

This is why: Child loss is unlike any other loss a person may experience. It is out-of-order death, unnatural, unexpected and unfathomable.

Every day, bereaved parents are walking in the world, going to work , doing all that life requires and often caring for their other children while carrying a very heavy burden that mostly goes unnoticed.

Many parents desperately want to speak about their missing child but feel constrained by fear others will think they are vying for sympathy or attention. Sometimes they don’t say anything because they’ve been shamed or shushed by negative comments on their social media posts. Still others are longing to find a community where their uniquely painful experience is understood.

Bereaved Parents Month is an opportunity for these parents to share their child with the world without fear or condemnation.

It’s a chance to post articles, information and personal experience that can help those outside the circle of child loss understand the ongoing struggle of walking this path.

Hopefully it is also a season where newly bereaved parents can find resources so their own hearts feel heard, understood and encouraged.

So if you ARE a bereaved parent, please take advantage of this month set aside to raise awareness of our journey.

If you LOVE a bereaved parent, please acknowledge and affirm your friend or family member who may choose to share in person or online a little more freely this month.

Hearts hold on best when they are free to tell their story.

Bereaved Parents Month is set aside for us to tell ours.

Forest of Sorrow

There are so many ways to describe grief.

So many ways individual hearts walk this path.

For many of us there’s a sense of being locked in time, stuck in space, unable to leave the moment one received the news or the few days before and after.

It’s maddening that the earth still turns, the sun still rises and people go on with life when in so many ways our world is frozen in place.

Elizabeth Gilbert describes deep grief as a “coordinate on the map of time” and a “forest of sorrow”.

I like that.

Child loss is a place no parent wants to go. I found myself in territory so unfamiliar there was no way to get my bearings.

Left alone, I faltered, would have stayed lost, was doomed to walk in circles trying to find my way out.

I desperately needed a guide.

Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Thankfully some parents, further along in this awful journey, created safe spaces for broken hearts to gather and to share.

I am oh, so grateful to them for that!

Not everyone who finds the way to hope and light chooses to come back for those still wandering in the forest of sorrow.

But some do.

They retrace painful steps carrying a torch and say, “Come with me. I can show you the way to hope.”

Oh, To Be Understood! What a Blessing.

Today I’ll toss all the random bits and pieces I’ve assembled for this weekend’s retreat into my car and drive away.

I’m always a little nervous until I’m far enough down the road that turning back isn’t a realistic option.

Even though this is the third retreat in the same place with some of the same moms (plus some new ones) I always fret over whether or not the message God gave me is the one that will bless their hearts.

But I have to trust in this as in all things and keep moving.

One thing that is always, always, always a blessing-Every. Single. Time.-is the compassionate companionship of women who, like me, know what it is to bury a child.

I try to encourage every heart that might even think about joining us with this: you can be yourself.

No mask*No filter*No worrying about whether or not your tears will upset the person next to you*No wondering if your questions or queries or doubts will be considered a failure of faith*No need to hide the ugly truth that child loss is awful and time does NOT heal all wounds.

There’s nothing magical about this retreat or these moms.

It’s simply a shared experience, a shared commitment to transparency and a shared trust in the Word of God that makes our time together fruitful, strengthening and restorative.

So if you have an opportunity to join or create a small group in your neck of the woods, centered on the truth of who God is, founded on the principle of transparent sharing and committed to creating a safe space where masks are unnecessary-go for it!

You will never be sorry you did.

Book Review: Remember to Breathe

I’m a member of several online bereaved parents groups.

They are safe spaces to share my heart and be assured the ones who read what I write understand my pain.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to develop friendships with some of the women who, like me, have experienced child loss and who have made a choice to seek God in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Evelyn Fannell is one such friend.

I was drawn immediately to her honest but grace-filled posts and comments in our groups. I recognized a heart that was full of Scripture but was, like me, dissatisfied with pat answers to the difficult questions a mother has when her child is taken suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically.

When life throws you a curve, even if you hurt so much you feel like giving up or giving in, remember to breathe. Deeply. Hold on to that breath as though it were your last, and it will get you through the next moment. And you’ll get through the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that…until that when you see your beloved again.

Just remember to breathe.

Evelyn Fannell, Remember to Breathe, page 169

She has written a memoir that is honest, helpful and hope-filled.

Her son, Joseph, was killed by a distracted driver just a short distance from his destination.

Image result for Remember to Breathe Evelyn Fannell

No mama’s heart is prepared to get THAT phone call. It knocks the wind right out of you. But from the beginning, Evelyn knew if she was to survive this, she had to remember to breathe.

In Remember to Breathe, Evelyn draws on her experience walking the road of child loss and her relationship with her Savior and weaves them together in a way that grieving parents will find authentic and encouraging.

Even in my dreams, God reminded me to live and to breathe.

There aren’t words to describe how devastating it has been to lose my youngest child. But I have learned and grown through the experience of grief, and one of the lessons I’ve learned is something I think applies in a lot of different situations.

It is okay NOT to be okay.

Evelyn Fannell, Remember to Breathe, page 43

I’ve said here before that we have to exhale in order to inhale.

Remember to Breathe is one woman’s account of doing just that-letting go of the things and thoughts that weigh us down on this journey and inhaling the grace, mercy and courage of our Shepherd.

If your heart is longing for an authentic example to follow, I highly recommend this book.

Give Sorrow Words

The morning Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, after I made the awful phone calls I reached for my journal.  

I knew if I didn’t start spilling the grief onto paper my heart would explode with sorrow.  

Since I learned to hold a pencil I’ve been writing. 

It’s how I sort my thoughts, figure out my feelings and express my heart. 

i-write-because-i-dont-know

A few months after and I found several online support groups. 

There I learned a whole other  Language of Grief and Loss.  The more I read what others shared, the better I understood my own experience and understood how to communicate that truth to others.

You might not keep a journal or write poetry or craft lengthy essays about your pain and that’s just fine.  There’s no magic in written words.

Find a safe space or person and speak it aloud.  

Sorrow unspoken swells. 

It can’t be contained.  

It will absolutely consume you.  

Give-sorrow-words shakespeare

 

Repost: Barefoot Over Broken Ground

I first shared this in 2014 not quite a month after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

His leaving has made me much more aware that what we read as “stories”where we can turn to the last page and know the ending, others lived in real time, with no ability to fast forward to the ending.

Read the rest here:  Barefoot Over Broken Ground

Why We Turn Away From Hurting Hearts

The news goes out over Facebook, over phone lines, over prayer chains and everyone shows up.

Crowds in the kitchen, in the living room, spilling onto the lawn.

It’s what you do.

And it’s actually the easiest part.  Lots of people, lots of talking, lots of activity keep the atmosphere focused on the deceased and the family.  The conversation rarely dips to deeper waters or digs into harder ground:  “Where was God?”;  “Why him?”;  “Why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people?”

But eventually the busyness and noise gives way to stillness and silence.

That’s when the harder part starts.

Read the rest here:  Why Do We Turn Away?

International Bereaved Mother’s Day 2019: An Open Letter to my Fellow Sisters in Loss

Dear Mama,

I know that you never-in your wildest imagination-thought that you would need a day set aside for your broken heart and your empty arms.  

Who thinks when they learn a new life is growing inside that this same life might be cut short?  What heart is brave enough to consider the possibility? 

Yet here you are.  

I’m so, so sorry.  

Read the rest here:  International Bereaved Mother’s Day: An Open Letter to my Fellow Sisters in Loss

Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families

I firmly believe that our friends and extended family want to reach out, want to help, want to walk alongside as we grieve the death of our child

 I am also convinced that many of them don’t because they don’t know how.  

It may seem unfair that in addition to experiencing our loss, we also have to educate others on how to help us as we experience it, but that’s just how it is.

The alternative is to feel frustrated and abandoned or worse.  

So here’s a list of helpful tips (and a great infographic!) for interacting with bereaved families:  

Express condolences and show you care. Don’t avoid me, please!  You cannot make me any sadder.  I need to hear from you.

friends hugging

Refer to my child by name.  Dominic is STILL my son.  He is still part of my story.  But because he’s no longer visible, his name often goes unspoken.  Please talk to me about him, use his name, tell me a story of how he impacted your life or a memory that makes you smile.  It makes me smile too.

Actively listen and be supportive.  It’s hard to listen to someone tell you how much they are hurting and not offer advice or think of ways to “fix” them.  I can tell you from experience that what I need most on my darkest days is for someone to say, “It IS dark.  I’m so sorry.”  Silence is OK too.  Not every quiet moment needs to be filled with chatter.

listening is a postive act

Understand that each family and family member will grieve in different ways.  You may have observed child loss before but what you saw in one family may not translate to the next.  There are no hard and fast rules for this awful journey.  The age of the child, family background and structure, manner of death-all these impact grief.  In addition, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers all bring their personalities, stage of life, beliefs and experiences to the journey.  There were five of us left behind when Dominic ran ahead.  We were each devastated but expressed it in very different ways.  Nearly five years later, those gaps have widened, not narrowed.

Fathers grieve too.  Sometimes support focuses almost exclusively on the mother.  In part because of a common notion that mothers are somehow emotionally closer to their children than dads.  In part because many men are less demonstrative and may do a good job hiding grief.  Whatever the reason, don’t assume one parent is dealing “better” with the loss than another (mother or father) just because he (or she) is not crying openly.  No one escapes this awful blow unscathed.

bereaved fathers

Don’t overlook siblings.  Surviving siblings are sometimes referred to as “forgotten grievers”.  If they are very young, people may think they are relatively unaffected by the death of a brother or sister. If they are grown and out of the home, people may figure that the siblings’ own, very full and very busy, lives keep them preoccupied.  While some of that may be true-to an extent-most surviving siblings are deeply impacted by the death of a brother or sister, regardless of age.  Not only have they lost a member of the family and changed birth order, they have also lost the family they knew, the parents they knew and a co-keeper of memories and secrets.  Bereaved parents are often overwhelmed with grief for their living children as well as the child that is missing. One of the best gifts anyone gave me was reaching out to my surviving children.  It helped my heart to know that they had friends who were supporting and loving them well.

kids cartoon

Be yourself.  People often feel awkward and stiff when approaching a bereaved parent or family member.  That’s perfectly understandable.  The bereaved seem so fragile (are so fragile!) that folks are afraid the wrong word or touch might shatter them into a thousand pieces.  But what your friend or family needs right now is the you they’ve always known and loved.  If you are a hugger, hug!  If you are a storyteller, tell stories (appropriate ones, ones of the missing child).  If you are a cook and cleaner, then cook and clean.  Our family was blessed by our friends doing exactly what they had always done-come alongside in their own special way.  So much had changed in our world that familiar touchstones, familiar routines and familiar faces were a real comfort.

Keep in mind words matter.  Now is not the time to try to satisfy your curiosity about exactly “what happened”.  Loud joking is rarely welcome.  Many bereaved families find it hard to laugh in the first days, weeks, months because it feels like betrayal.  Don’t offer platitudes intended to help them “look on the bright side” or consider that “it could be worse”.  There is nothing worse than burying your child.  Nothing.  Listen and take direction from the person you are comforting.  Follow his or her lead.  And if something less than helpful slips out, own it and apologize.

pencil-drawing-bereaved-mother

It’s never too late to reach out.  NEVER.  Sometimes people stay away at first for lots of reasons.  Or they show up for the memorial service and then fade into the background.  After a bit, even if they want to reach out, they may feel embarrassed by the long absence.  Don’t be.  So many people stop calling, visiting and texting within the first weeks that your outstretched hand of friendship will be a welcome beacon of hope.  If you need to, apologize for your absence.  Be honest.  Admit you were scared or whatever.

Then show up. 

Stick around.

You don’t have to be perfect.  

Just be present.  

bereaved families infographic