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The True Source of Grief Paralysis

Psalm 91 is a mixed-media work of art including the use of watercolor, colored pencil and marker by Sarah Marie


A fellow grieving mother, Sarah Marie, shared the following comments on a closed Facebook page in anticipation of the Heaven Going anniversary of her daughter, Christina Grace. I am publishing Sarah’s comments with her express permission. 

Grief is far more complicated than missing your loved one and fearing they will be forgotten. Please take a minute to absorb the message Sarah shares below.

“This month marks one year since we lost our daughter. If I’m open about my pain, well-meaning people say things like, “She’ll never be forgotten,” or “Thinking of you as you miss your precious Christina.” I know they mean well, but their responses show how little they understand of what we experience. 

Yes, I miss her. And if she was here, I wouldn’t have this particular pain and I’m thankful she’s remembered. BUT simply missing her isn’t what creates this emotional (and sometimes mental and physical!) paralysis. 

It’s the scars of trauma. The anxiety. The loneliness of grief. The shallowness of petty people. The exhaustion that comes from insomnia, nightmares, and the exertion of conversation. The racking sobs I cannot control when I just want to be alone but the laundry pile is daunting and dinner needs made. The ever greater, experiential understanding that I have zero control and the way that changes… everything. 

. . . 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come!”

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Grief

 

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Common Thoughts and Feelings of Grieving Parents 

This morning I opened the Facebook app on my iPad and started scrolling through my news feed. A post from a grief site caught my attention so I ducked over to the loss of a child FB page and started scrolling. . . 

And my heart broke all over again.

As I scrolled through the posts I read such raw anguish. . . 

I heard my own thoughts echo back through the words of others.

Despair.
Discouragement.
Defeat.
How did this happen?
How could this have happened?
Why did this happen?
Who am I now?
What am I doing?
Why can’t I get it together?
How do I go on? . . . Do I even want to?

I’m so angry!
I feel numb. . . detached . . . lonely.
I have no friends left.
If I’m not happy others don’t want to be around me.

And so it goes. . . so many pain filled thoughts and feelings.

And I’ve put my emotional armor on.

I read these things and give a knowing intellectual nod to each one . . . 

But I refuse to draw any closer.

I refuse to engage my emotions.

I can’t shoulder their pain along with my own.

Today, 

I have nothing to give.

My arms are so weighted that I cannot reach back for the one who so desperately needs a hand to hold.

I’m still broken.

And yet,

I feel guilty and ashamed that I can’t formulate words of hope, support and encouragement for another hurting parent.

Not today.

The words just won’t come.

Maybe tomorrow. . . 

But what of all those hurting souls that need a word today?

I am so thankful for the many bereaved parents who step up and in on the days I can’t. Those who are there for me and others with understanding, encouragement and sometimes righteous indignation.

I’d never wish another parent into the child loss community, but I am so very thankful that I’m not alone.

And on the days when I am weak – when the well is dry, others are stronger and extend the hand of courage to the weak and the wounded.

I need the Holy Spirit to fill me before I can be poured out once again for another.

We need each other.

How we need each other!

 
7 Comments

Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Grief

 

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Still Gone


“It doesn’t matter how much I heal or how much emotional processing I go through or how much I pray or go to therapy, whatever, he’s still gone.” Said the young man whose older brother died eight years ago. 

I can relate to those words on so many levels. They’re pretty straightforward, but I’ve found myself meditating on them. In some corner of my mind I recognize there is a nuance that is not so straightforward but is profoundly important. 

And here it is hiding within these three words, “. . . he’s still gone.”

“He’s still gone.” 

I have spent the last three years processing my emotions in the aftermath of the collision that killed two of my daughters. Those losses piggybacked onto the loss of my son almost 25 years ago. And then they were interwoven with the knowledge that my 21 year old daughter, my only surviving child, was born with a rare genetic degenerative neuromuscular disease. Believe me when I say that I’ve processed emotions. 

Relentlessly. 

I’ve prayed. Prayers of anger and despair. Questing prayers. Begging entreaties. Oh yes, I’ve prayed.

I’ve even tried trauma therapy and grief counseling.

I’ve tried finding meaning in some global purpose. Painted on a positive outlook. Whatever.

And they’re still gone.

Do we somehow, unconsciously assume that emotional processing, therapy, and prayer will change that unacceptable truth? Do we think it will fill the gaping holes left in our hearts when our children die? Do we think that grieving will make the loss of our loved ones okay in time? 

And maybe that’s why “they’re still gone” echoes so hollowly through my heart and mind. Maybe I am living with the unrealistic expectation that at some point “they’re still gone” won’t hurt anymore. Is that the goal of grieving?

What expectation should I have? What will healing look like? Feel like? Is it even possible? And maybe that’s why his words, “he’s still gone” communicate a straightforward fact but if you really let them sink into your soul they communicate so much more. Resignation, sorrow, despair, and feelings far to deep to articulate. 

He’s still gone.

She’s still gone.

They’re still gone.

And maybe that’s why I’m stuck. Why I can’t move forward or get better – whatever it is that society expects of me.

No matter what I do, my personal reality is that they’re still gone. Until the end of my days they will be missing from me. Maybe there are some wounds that sink so deep into an individual that they can never be healed this side of heaven. And unless I make peace with the immeasurable worth of an eternal future (not just acknowledge it-not just understand it-not just hope for it) and even if I do make peace with eternity, the wounds I have sustained will never fully heal. They will always hurt because they’re still gone. 

Never will I be whole again. 

Never will it stop hurting. 

Never will I be okay with their absence. 

Still gone.

Still gone.

Still gone.

It echoes and echoes and echoes through me. Those words hold an unquantifiable depth of meaning and they leave my heart torn and bleeding.

Still gone.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Grief

 

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Is There Life Out There?

“I don’t need any more accidents in my life.” (From the video above).

That just resonates within.

I really don’t need any more accidents—any more tragedies in this life.

And the partial lyrics below resonate as well in the aftermath of death and this pilgrimage we are taking through degenerative disease.

IS THERE LIFE OUT THERE - Reba McEntire

". . . 
But now she's wonderin' 
What she's living for 
. . . 
She's dyin' to try something foolish 
Do something crazy 
Or just get away 
. . . 
There's a place in the sun that she's never been 
Where life is fair and time is a friend 
Would she do it the same as she did back then 
She looks out the window and wonders again 

Chorus 

Is there life out there 
So much she hasn't done 
Is there life beyond Her family and her home 
She's done what she should 
Should she do what she dares 
She doesn't want to leave 
She just wonders
if there's life out there

I’m still wondering what my purpose is.

And doing something foolish or crazy or getting away from all that’s gone before—all that’s yet to come? I can’t even imagine what that would feel like.

I would do the same as I did before, and I don’t want to leave.

I just wonder if there really is a place in the sun—if there is something more in THIS world—something that doesn’t hurt out there. . .

For me.

And I wonder if other bereaved parents, other special needs parents, want to know that too.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 4, 2017 in Links, Music

 

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What Bereaved Parents and Those Who Care for Them Need to Know

“It gets worse before it gets better.” Those were the words the pastor offered to a newly bereaved couple whose daughter had died unexpectedly.

And you should know that he is right.

Bereaved parents are stunned when four months, six month, nine months down the road they find their grief remains overwhelmingly raw. 

The shock has worn off.

Their hearts have been flayed open and the wound is still bleeding.

It doesn’t help that those outside the loss community expect healing to be happening when the magnitude of the loss is still seeping into the soul.

The depth of loss has not been fully realized when the funeral is over. No, in the weeks and months and years ahead bereaved parents are confronted with the realization that they didn’t just lose their child but that they lost the hope, dreams and expectations they held for that child as well. They lost their child’s future, but they also lost their own future expectations (marriages and grand babies, to name a few) and they grieve for both what their child will never experience and what they themselves will miss out on.

Frequently bereaved parents squelch their grief as they try to remain strong for their surviving children. They can’t fall apart because they are so desperately needed by those too young to understand or to express their grief in healthy ways. That’s one reason why the average length of time it takes for parents to work through the grief process averages five years or more – the longest bereavement period of any loss known to man.

My daughter’s grief counselor told her that many teens don’t grieve over lost siblings for four or five years. They experience delayed grief which I think results from trying to be strong for their parents. The entire home is in upheaval. The sense of security that was taken for granted has been exposed for the fallacy that it is. Gone is the naïveté that we can protect those we love from harm. It’s a frightening experience.

It’s truly terrifying. 

And parents and siblings are often left dealing with problems that arise in the wake of the death. Financial pressure, legal issues, spiritual, emotional and health problems assault the family. Marriages and family relationships quake in the aftermath.

While the outside world expects healing to begin, bereaved families are often sorting through compounding problems. They are reeling from the fallout and haven’t really begun the healing process.

Bereaved parents and the outside world need to know and understand that grieving the loss of a son or daughter – regardless of their age – is the most devastating and destructive loss experience. Both the bereaved and those who care for them need to anticipate and make accommodations for a long and drawn out grieving process, because it definitely gets exponentially worse before it gets better. 

For those who care about the bereaved, grieve with those who grieve. Let go of the expected length of bereavement. Don’t reduce grief to a simple bid for sympathy or pity. And be ever aware that for the grief-stricken feeling bad feels bad, but feeling better feels bad too. It’s a psychological hurdle grieving families frequently face. There is a battle raging within the hearts and minds of loss parents. What they know to be true doesn’t “feel” true and they struggle to reconcile the conflicting messages received from the heart and mind. The solution is not as simple as mind over matter. 

People often ask me what to say or do for someone who is grieving. So many times I’ve heard others advise just be present and listen. Both those things are helpful but not necessarily healing. In my experience validating feelings is the single most healing thing you can provide the bereaved.

Grief, for a bereaved parent can be likened to a pressure sore, more commonly known as a bedsore. Pressure sores develop when an individual stays in one position for too long. Unlike other wounds, a pressure sore grows deeper instead of spreading wider as other wounds do. They can be deceptively dangerous because they rapidly eat through layers of flesh below the affected skin to the tendons and the bones beneath if not treated promptly. Treatment involves the painful scraping away of the dead tissue to reach the healthy tissue below. Ointments is applied, the wound is packed and covered and daily cleaning is required to prevent the wound from getting deeper. 

Likewise, grief gets worse and deeper when exposed to the pressure of society to project a positive outlook or to work through their grief in the timeframe others deem appropriate. Shaming and silencing the bereaved for failing to heal, wallowing in grief, or throwing a pity party deepens the wound by invalidating the worth of the loved one lost. Venting the negative feelings helps to clear away the infection but refusing to validate those feelings is tantamount to leaving the wound exposed to the dirt and debris floating in the air. The wound gets worse and healing takes longer as the grief-stricken seek the understanding of others.

Validation is the antibiotic ointment applied to promote healing. The presence of “safe friends” (those who don’t criticize or try to fix the broken) is the packing and covering which provides a barrier between the open wound and the influences of the outside world. Frequent validation and affirmation keep the emotional wound clean providing an environment that encourages healing. The bad must be flushed out before the good can replace it. Unfinished grief occurs when we slap a bandaid on without cleaning and disinfecting the wound. The wound may no longer be visible to the outside world but is quietly festering beneath the bandaid that it covers. 

For the bereaved, be gentle and patient with yourself. You’ve been deeply wounded and deep wounds heal slowly. As the old song says, “The road is long with many a winding curve.” Grief isn’t supposed to feel good. 
It gets worse before it gets better; but it can and does get better.

 
122 Comments

Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Grief

 

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Love, Love, Love!

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Since my girls were small we’ve always made a point of giving gifts for Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s something I coerced David into, although it wasn’t difficult. I knew that when girls don’t feel loved by their fathers they tend to seek out love from other sources. More often than not their unmet need for love would be taken advantage of by a boyfriend and they would likely exchange love for sex. I didn’t want that for my daughters and having two daughters with ARSACS, a progressive neuromuscular disease, I feared my girls might seek love from the wrong people.

Gifting at Valentine’s Day was just one small way for David to demonstrate his fatherly love for his daughters. So at Valentine’s Day, a small gift and candy normally appeared for Bethany, Gracen, and Katie. Over the years David added in a card with his gifts. Inside he would write a special message for each one of his girls. He’d tell them why he was proud of them individually, what he enjoyed about them or enjoyed doing with them and he’d usually offer some encouragement before signing his name and expressing his love in writing.

beecherheart

We have several of those cards lying around and for me, they are a treasure in the aftermath of the car accident that took Bethany and Katie from us. David and I made more than our share of mistakes parenting our daughters, but those cards, a coffee mug, a small stuffed bear, candles, etc., all testify to the truth that each one was uniquely loved.

The night of that tragic accident David and I were driven from the hospital we were treated at to the hospital Gracen was taken to by helicopter. I remember sitting in the back seat of my in-law’s car in the dark, holding tightly to David’s hand and whispering to him, “They knew they were loved.” Knowing they were loved was second in importance only to knowing where my daughters would spend eternity.

They were loved.

They had no doubt that they were loved.

They are still loved, and always will be until we are reunited in Heaven above, and there they will be loved eternally.

In the meantime, it’s time to start planning a Valentine’s Day surprise and personal card for Gracen as Valentine’s Day will be upon us before we know it.

Neither death nor disability will ever dim the love we have for each of our daughters. We rest confidently in the knowledge that what Satan means for evil God allows for good. And David and I know we are loved too, by each other, by our children, and by our Heavenly Father.

Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. ~ Jeremiah 31:3

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Can Three Years Have Passed?

Three years ago January 4, I buried two of my three beautiful daughters. The day before the funeral my sister-in-law, Sandy, took me shopping for widows weeds. What an appropriate name for the clothes you never wanted to grace your closet! And David and I prepared to leave our sole surviving child in a hospital three plus hours from home to celebrate the lives of our oldest and youngest daughters. Not our oldest child, no, he’d been buried twenty some years by that time.

And one remained.

Just one.

We arrived at the motel late that night after having driven in the dark for many hours. We were tired . . . worried . . . and broken. The motel sat less than a mile from our home, but I couldn’t stomach spending the night there without any of my children. And family was staying at our home already and I just wanted to be alone with my husband. We hadn’t spent many nights together since the accident.

That night, as we lay together in that unfamiliar room we talked about our girls, our fears for tomorrow, the difficulty of leaving Gracen behind, and the concern over her missing the memorial service.

I was nervous about the service the next day. The news coverage left me fearful that cameras and strangers might greet me in my worst moments. What lay before me was a small-talk nightmare. And so David and I agreed to spilt a pill prescribed for each of us at the ER. I can’t even tell you what it was. A sedative—an anti-anxiety medication? I don’t know. We just knew it was supposed to help. I didn’t want to miss the memorial service because I was too tired to pay attention, but I didn’t want to be filled with anxiety either.

So on the day we buried our daughters, we split a pill and swallowed it down before we left the motel. And then we stepped outside, took the elevator down to the lobby, and found family gathered there. We had no idea they were staying in the same place we were. After hugs and stilted conversation David and I left for the church . . . left to do what no parent ever dreams of doing.

img_2437And later that day we would turn our backs and leave the bodies of our children in that cold cemetery. We would drive away – abandoning them there in order to do the next thing. Had it not been for Gracen I think I would have curled up on that cold mounded dirt and cried out my misery until spent. There I’d sleep until I joined my children on the other side of the veil. Instead, I did the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and that’s all I’ve been doing ever since.

Maybe that’s all life was meant to be. One long line of doing the next thing . . .

until you are no more.

Yes, three years have passed and all I do is the next thing. 

Believe me, that’s a victory.

 

 
18 Comments

Posted by on February 6, 2017 in Grief

 

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