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Tag Archives: Bereaved

The Savior of the World

The holidays are notoriously hard for the bereaved; Christmas in particular. It’s the quintessential family day. It’s looked forward to with joy by kids filled with anticipation and hope and parents and grandparents excited to see that hope realized and the resulting celebration . . .

Not only that, the entire month of December is filled with triggers for memorable moments that will be no more . . .

Ever again.

santanativityShopping, decorating, making candy and cookies, late night cocoa by the light of the Christmas tree, piles of presents gradually growing higher and spreading out before the tree. “White Christmas” and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” on the TV and trips to visit Santa Clause. It’s a recipe for family magic . . .

And then the circle is broken.

There’s one less person to buy gifts for, one less stocking to fill, one less excited squeal as brightly colored paper and bows fly through the air.

The day has become less.

But Christmas isn’t really about family. It wasn’t about Mary and Joseph. It wasn’t about angels proclaiming good will to men, frightened then excited shepherds and wise men traveling from afar to worship either. Everyone from the awe inspiring angels to the wise men and Mary and Joseph were all just supporting cast members. They all played an important role but there is no doubt that the focus was squarely on the new born babe—the Christ child in a dirty sheep fold—the hope of redemption for all the world. That’s the good news—that’s the gospel.

christmasBut we, in modern days, have relegated the Christ child to the background. Can you find signs of the nativity in the picture on the left? We’ve overshadowed His glory, God’s miraculous appearing in human form—Emmanuel—with sights and smells and greedy hearts.

And when your loved one dies, the props of the season are but painful reminders of what’s been lost. What was once shared. What was anticipated.

Melancholy blankets the joy of the season because we’ve made Christmas about Santa and gifts and family. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day has been consumed by the pursuit of happiness. The real gifts of the season, life and liberty, barely receive a cursory nod if they are acknowledged at all. How very American of us!

In Luke chapter 4 the beginning of Christ’s ministry is recorded following His temptation in the wilderness by Satan. He began His ministry in Galilee and people began to talk and word of this new prophet spread throughout the area. Eventually, Jesus returned home to Nazareth, the place where He grew from a child to a man, where he went to church. Can you imagine how curious the people from His home town must have been?

“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.

And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.” ~ Luke 4:14-15 KJV

One thing I didn’t know that’s of cultural significance, is that the scrolls were read in a certain order. On the day Jesus returned to His home church He was handed the preordained scroll from Isaiah. The text was Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the long anticipated Messiah. Jesus read that prophecy and basically told all those in attendance that He was the Messiah they had been looking for.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 

jesusscroll“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.”

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom       for the   prisoners and recovery of       sight for the blind,
 to set the oppressed free,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s        favor.”            

    

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” ~ Luke 4:16-21 NIV

And the fact that Jesus read that specific scripture is important because Jesus didn’t select the scripture to be read in the synagogue on His own—but it was no coincidence that He read that specific passage. Now, it’s important to understand that a prophet in that day was held to a very high standard—a 100% accuracy rate. The first time a prophecy failed to be fulfilled the prophet’s career was over. The Jewish people knew with absolute certainty that an unfulfilled prophecy meant God did not send that man.

The scripture Jesus read was inspired by God and then prophesied by Isaiah in order to enable the Jews to recognize the Messiah when He appeared. They should have been able to identify Jesus as the Christ because He fulfilled the prophecy of what the Messiah’s earthly ministry would look like. They heard the rumors: the evidence was before them if they’d just observed His ministry.

healingtheblindHe healed the brokenhearted by curing their sick and dying loved ones—by actually raising the dead on a few noted occasions.

He delivered the demon possessed from Satanic captivity.

He gave sight to the blind.

He set free those bruised by life’s harsh realities—by the sin that stains the soul all mankind.

He is—and was—and will always be Messiah.

Christmas and Easter should be the holidays the bereaved most enjoy. They should give those who grieve hope. Yet the birth of Christ and the full scope of it’s meaning is lost among decorations, flying wrapping paper and ribbons.

That long ago day, Christ was the only one to receive gifts; gold, frankincense and Myrrh. We don’t actually know how the gold was used. It’s been speculated that it paid for Christ’s escape from a fearful earthy king  [Herod] desperate to hold onto his kingdom. But the frankincense and myrrh were commonly used to anoint a body at burial. The gifts Christ received prepared Him for life and death. Just as the gifts we receive from the Lord do for us.

Since Bethany and Katie’s deaths we have not done much decorating for Christmas. We haven’t put up a tree or hung stockings or made Christmas cookies. Last year I bought a small (1 1/2 foot)  pre-lit tree and set up my usual manger scene. My heart has not been in what is commonly referred to as the Christmas spirit. And as the anniversary of the girls’ deaths is the day after Christmas; I have had no desire to return home from the holiday with family to a “festive” house. It’s just painful. My heart is not festive this time of year. Well, actually, my heart has not really been festive since that tragic day.

But . . .

Christ was still born . . .

He is still my hope . . .

His birth, death and resurrection are the rock solid foundation of the one hope I still nurse.

It’s the only hope that really matters.

Everything else is cake – a temporary sweet to savor for a short time.

But Christmas is about permanent things. It’s about the permanence of my life’s highest priority. It’s about peace, hope and joy and my heart longs for those things in pure unblemished permanence.

As translated by the Amplified Bible, Jesus said,

” I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]’  John 16:33

This month will still be hard for me. It’s filled with the sorrow of what was and what will never be again.

elegant-nativity-scene-editedI’m still not sure if a full-sized Christmas tree will grace our home.

But this year I did purchase a larger manger scene.

The nativity will take center stage in our home.

Christmas Day I will still struggle to focus on what is and what will be and not on what was. I’ll still be distracted from the true purpose of the holiday by the commercialism that has become Christmas.

I’ll still miss the children in my heart but not in my presence.

It will be a bittersweet day.

You may not find me is a state of good cheer, but you will find me confident and certain that for all that sin and Satan have snatched from my hands, Jesus has deprived them of the ability to harm my eternal soul. He has conquered sin and death.

So I will celebrate—not with happiness but instead with joy—the birth of the Christ child.

The Savior of the world.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 5, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Grief

 

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Neurosis

borderline-personality-disorderIt’s 11:40 a.m.

Gracen has not yet made her daily morning call signaling her desire for help from her bed. She’s been routinely waking up around 9:30 this summer. I try not to worry, not to be paranoid; but it’s been like this since Cole died. I refuse to be ruled by fear—fear that I will find her “sleeping”—in the biblical sense. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

A prayer, a plea, escapes my mental captivity. (2 Corinthians 10:5) I quickly turn my mind to something else – anything else that will hold off the anxious thoughts, the mental images of what I might find should I open her door. I’ll give her till noon to call. She might have stayed up late reading. Twenty minutes of distraction to avoid feeding my fears; acting on my paranoia.

I distinctly remember having a conversation with my friend and colleague, Judy, when Bethany was just a baby. I don’t remember the conversation word for word but I recall the gist of it. I’d asked her what the point was in entering Bethany’s room to see if she was still breathing in her crib. What could I do at that point? Judy responded that I could administer CPR, that it might not be too late. A wise response.

I think, even then, though, that I had begun to expect the worst. That I was resigned to the things I could not change. And that mentality carries forward to this day. Experience has done nothing but reinforce it.

I can just imagine the response of the choose joy contingent. I must have hope, I must think positively. . . It’s been 2 1/2 years, why can’t you get over this? (Or maybe that’s my own conscious condemning me). I’ve been infected with the cultural message that if I just do this or that I can get beyond this. But as I discussed in my recent post, Trust, Works & Supernatural Power, my analytical mind also realizes that I need the Holy Spirit’s intervention in order to heal. Maybe I can overcome without His help, but honestly refusing to work through my pain won’t lead to healing. And in the long run it’s more hurtful than helpful.

So why would I share my personal neurosis with all of you? What is my motivation?, I ask myself. Am I just seeking pity?

Oh, heck no!

There’s a small but hurting population of loss parents out there who grapple daily with fears for their surviving children, for their spouse. Individuals for whom an unanswered text or phone call or a late arrival without explanation incites anxiety far greater than the average person would experience.

For those men and women, a post like this validates their own fears. I can’t begin to tell you the enormous relief a loss parent experiences when someone says, “I feel that way too” because it doesn’t happen very often. More often than not, their very real fears are dismissed. No one wants to believe that it could happen again. That God would be so cruel as to allow you to lose another child. But every loss parent knows it could happen and David and I are living proof. That’s not to say that God is cruel, but that line of thinking is an all too common belief, even among Christians.

So yes, I want to validate the feelings of every loss parent I encounter.

Validation leads to healing.

And for those of you who haven’t experienced such a devastating loss, maybe this post will give you a glimpse into the mentality of a loss parent. Maybe you will not be so quick to jump in and remind a brokenhearted parent that they must have hope or shouldn’t think the way they do. Maybe instead you will gift them with understanding. Maybe the words that will tumble out of your mouth will be, “I can certainly understand your fears” or even, “I think I’d feel the same way.” Maybe you will be wise enough to stop right there; to fight back the urge to tack on, “But, . . . “, because pretty much anything that follows that word, but, will invalidate and dismiss any understanding the bereaved might have derived. Tacking on that one word, but, is a bait and switch. What appears to be understanding and compassion, is revealed to be admonishment and rebuke; criticism and judgment. It’s cruel yet offered with the kindest of intentions. It reflects ignorance or an unwillingness to imagine how those words might feel if you stood in the shoes of the bereaved.

Grief is all about feelings.

Processing feelings.

Grief is not an intellectual pursuit.

C.S. Lewis said in his book, A Grief Observed, “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.” “Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?” He went on to say, “Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?” And then, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

What are you most afraid of? How do you feel when someone implies your fears are unmerited or little more than paranoia?

Never forget that you have the luxury of walking away—whether you feel your words were a helpful encouragement or woefully inadequate. You. Walk. Away.

The bereaved do not.

There is no escape but there are moments of relief.  Moments when the burden is lifted as a friend or even a stranger yokes up with the wounded and hurting by sharing and validating their feelings—strengthening the bereaved for the moment when the burden once again settles onto their shoulders alone.

11:49 a.m.

My cell phone rings.

The display reads, Sugar Shaker Boxx, and sweet relief surges through me followed quickly by a bit of dread. I rise, bracing myself for the sight of the wheelchair that stands sentinel beside Gracen’s bed. Bracing myself for the tasks no mother ever wants to accept their grown child needs help with.

I put on a smile and adapt a sedately cheerful persona (Gracen is not a morning person) and I open her bedroom door.

Another day has begun.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 14, 2016 in Grief

 

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Two Years Later . . .

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Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that I can assure you.  Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind.

 

Two Years Later . . . 

This morning, the 2nd anniversary of Bethany & Katie’s deaths, I woke up in my in-laws guest room and told the Lord,

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I miss my babies.  I miss the life I used to live.  I miss the sweet ignorance of not knowing what disease plagued Gracen and Katie’s bodies, the unappreciated bliss of an unknown prognosis.  I miss my failure to understand that You, Lord, promised to walk through this life of trials with me, never once leaving me, but not to protect me from the free will of others and not to make life pain free.

 

I miss waking up with purpose.  Waking to enjoy the the birds singing and the sun shining.

I miss hugs and smiles and laughter — the sounds of life in my home.  I miss making cookies just to hear Katie’s whoop of joy.  Watching David and Bethany laugh over movie lines that cause me to roll my eyes.  Seeing Katie sit at Bethany’s feet joyful that her big sister was home from college.

I miss arguments and bad attitudes and snark and sass.  I miss seeing Katie curled up in David’s lap to watch a movie, David teasing Bethany and listening to him negotiate with Katie for hugs and kisses.

10246606_730773960317860_6144985397676167154_nI miss sibling rivalry and laughter and two ganging up on one.  I miss hearing how Gracen stood up for Katie at school, how Bethany watched out for Gracen and coming home to find all three watching music videos loud enough for the neighbors on either side to enjoy (?) too.

I miss praying for Bethany and Katie.  I miss inviting You, Lord, close instead of desperately clinging to You.  I miss what was and will never be again.  I miss the life I’d planned to have.  I miss ignorance and curse knowledge and I hate the last images of Bethany and Katie seared upon my mind, taunting me with their stillness, eyes once full of life and love vacant and unseeing.

I miss the me I used to be; the me I wish I could be again.  I miss the me who did not live with the ever present ache of loss.  The me who did not have to fortify herself for a simple trip to church, the me who did not have to plan in advance answers to everyday questions to guard my heart, my privacy and to avoid making others uncomfortable.  I miss genuine smiles.  I miss the ease with which I faced a day and the dark of night; of restful sleep, a focused mind, and simple motivation.  I miss anticipation and excitement.

IMG_3507 (2)I miss having all the bar stools at my counter filled. . .  I just miss so much — it all haunts me while I’m simultaneously thankful for Gracen and David.    Joy and sorrow side by side — both aware of all I have and all I’ve lost in every moment of every day.  One word defines my life — bittersweet.

And as I rolled over and curled in upon myself, I asked the Lord to help me get up and get going, to be a good house guest, to ignore the onslaught of sorrow, deep and numbing. To be able to be present instead of withdrawing from everyday conversation in desperate need for time alone — for the distraction fiction provides.

I finally rose at 10:30, hours later than I usually rise when we visit Kansas City.  And when I entered living room Sunny greeted me with a warm, “Good morning sleepyhead”, and Donna quietly went about frying an egg for me, then sat down at the table to visit with me while I ate.  No frustration, just uncomplicated acceptance and the kindness they have always shown me over the last twenty-eight years.  I found my heart full to the brim with both gratitude and sorrow — both of which my wonderful in-laws share with me.  I am not alone in my loss, in my sorrow, and in gratitude for what remains.

Empathy (shared sorrow) is so much more comforting than the fellowship of sorrow and pity. Pity pops in to express sympathy and promptly exits. Pity is love without commitment. It lures and deceives the grief-stricken with a promise of support only to silently slip away. Shared sorrow blesses the grieving by claiming a seat at the table of sorrow and dining on the bitter taste of disappointment and despair; drinking from the cup of agony before pulling out the dessert plates and loading them up with the sweet savor of united hearts and minds.  Shared sorrow is committed love.

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Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  People outside the immediate circle of loss, tend to view the death of a loved one from a broad, general perspective.  The bereaved grieve in fine detail. Acknowledging specific losses, unfinished plans, a lost legacy and the empty seat at the dinner table communicates to the bereaved that you care about the depths of their loss.

e9ee9b4bef3f86fba3571ecd3f0cbe512.  Speak the loved one’s name.  When a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth the family is left with a void they are unable to fill with memories of their child.  Using their child’s name, asking about the infant’s birth weight, length and hair color affirm the child’s worth. Avoidance equals isolation.

3.  Speak the loved one’s name-regardless of their age at the time of death.  As time goes on, the name of a loved one is spoken less and less frequently.  The bereaved want their loved ones remembered.  Mentioning their name, telling a family member you thought of their loved one and you miss them is a great blessing.  Speak about their loved one in a positive way, don’t just say how sorry you are for their loss.

4.  Many bereaved parents feel as if others treat them as if they are cursed following the death of a child. Avoiding bereaved parents because you are unsure what to say or do can frequently be perceived in unintended ways.  So, avoidance is not the answer. Call or visit and simply say, “I have no words.” “I don’t know how to help, but I want to be there for you. Tell me what you need to hear from me.”, and if you love the bereaved person keep trying to reach out, but don’t make them responsible for making you feel comfortable in their presence.

5.  Don’t expect the bereaved to step back into ministry roles and other normal activities. Some will return quickly, some will take six months or a year. Some will never return to that specific ministry or activity. Be sensitive. Churches are often in need of members to serve, but be careful not to push.

cdd180cb45e020a4fd5a2efa4c6415dd6.  Never compare the loss of a loved one to the death of a pet (it’s more common than you think). The loss of a child and a spouse are the most devastating losses the bereaved endure. Don’t tell the grief-stricken that you understand how they feel because you lost a uncle, grandparent or parent. The level of intimacy in the severed relationship determines the depth of grief experienced.

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 7.  When a parent loses a child, never say, “Well at least you have two more.” or “Be thankful for the ones you still have.” The death of one child doesn’t negate the parent’s love for the rest of their children. Grief and gratitude can and do co-exist. And the birth of subsequent children do not replace the child that died.

8.  Don’t be offended if the bereaved don’t personally call you to notify you of the death. It is not at all unusual to for the bereaved to be too emotionally overwrought to call even their closest friends and family members. It’s is however, very common to contact one family member and ask them to contact the rest of the family. It’s not a slight. Some are busy at hospitals, others are in shock, and some just can’t speak.

9.  Don’t ask for details especially in the case of suicide, murder, or accidents. Those who need to will share that information with someone they are close to. Others do not want to remember their loved one that way and may have been traumatized by things they’ve seen and experienced. Rehearsing it is retraumatizing and sometimes leaves the bereaved feeling as if you care more about the gory details than you do about them.

10. If you have pictures of the deceased, email copies or get prints made and bring them to the family. Every picture is a coveted treasure.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 28, 2016 in Chronic Illness, Faith, Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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Breakdown & The Calm After the Storm

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Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that I can assure you.  Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind.

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Breakdown

It’s time to get up, past time really.  Breakfast, shower, dressing . . . then my turn.  It all takes time, but I just do not want to get up and we’ll be late if I don’t get moving soon.

It’s raining.  Again.  I hate rain during the daytime.  Hair appointments at noon.  Still, I’d rather stay in bed.  Bury my head in my pillow — close my eyes — forget the world, it’s disappointments, my responsibilities — life and the fact that I’m still living it.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.  Why must I get up?  Why must I breathe in and out?  Why must I do it all over and over again?

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For the love of Gracen.

For the love of Gracen.

It’s all for the love of Gracen.

 

 

IMG_2964 (1)My heart is anchored here but I long to flee — from what happened — from what is yet to come — to fly far, far away.  To flee this unwelcome reality — oh, to be able to pretend it never happened!  To be able to board a time machine and travel back, back before the collision, back before diagnosis, back before Katie, before Gracen, before Bethany and Cole.  Back before marriage, back before love, back before David, back before my very existence, erasing every footprint, every memory of me.  Back before every bit of my existence tainted the lives of the people I love far more than life.  Just to have the opportunity to un-hurt others by erasing me.

It’s 10:34 a.m., I have to get up . .

I can’t.  I just can’t do it.

Tears falling.

Call David ask him to cancel our appointments.  Ring, ring.

Oh, no, she’s up! Hang up the phone.  Get it together before she sees you!

IMG_3518Ring, ring . . . Oh, crap, David’s calling back and Gracen’s right here!  I can’t talk in front of her.

Leaping off the bed, head down.

“Hey, Janet, Did you call me?”

Leave the room NOW!  Find a place where she can’t hear you!

“Janet, I can’t hear you . . .”  David’s voice comes over the phone line.

Sob.

“Janet?  Janet? What’s wrong?” David’s voice is Frantic now.

“David?”

“Janet?, What’s wrong?”

More crying.  I hear David’s breath hitch through the phone line.

IMG_3518“I’m sorry I had to leave the room.”

“Where’s Gracen?”

“She’s up.  She’s in the bathroom.”

“What’s wrong?”

Another sob slips out.

“I’ve just run out of the energy necessary to force myself to do this today.  I was just calling to ask you to cancel our hair appointments.”

“I’m coming home.”  Frantic.

“No, no, don’t come home.  I’ll be okay.  I’ll be okay.  I just can’t keep our appointments. Not enough time left now anyway.  I’m up.  I can take care of Gracen.  I just don’t want her to see me like this — to worry her.”

“Where are you?”

“Katie’s room.” The room next door to Gracen’s that now holds two twin beds without sheets and blankets, void of anything personal.  Katie’s empty room spins through my mind.

“I’m sorry for upsetting you.  Can you please just cancel our appointments?  I can’t talk to anyone right now.”

“Sure”

“Don’t come home, David.  I’ll get it together.  I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!”

Forty-three more days until Gracen heads to college.  I simply cannot unravel for forty-three more days.  I tell myself, take your meds —  get it together.  You can get up for forty-three more days.  You can.  You can.  You will.

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The Calm After the Storm

Wow! How did that get so out of control?

It was Gracen’s appearance at the same time David called back. The ring tone flooding my system with adrenaline, silent tears turned to sobs as I desperately tried to flee my room preventing Gracen from seeing me in such a state.

Oh, she’s seen me cry before, but only the controlled version.  Not ugly, wretched sobs.

But today I was not able to shelter Gracen from my grief.  I upset her although no words were spoken.  I know she is afraid she will lose another family member; she recently admitted as much.  I fear that too, but for her, all that’s left to lose are her parents — the people who have always represented safety and security to her.  I don’t want to inflame her fears.

And David — he’s seen discouragement and apathy, he’s held me through tear filled nights, he’s shouldered extra burdens when normal parts of life just seem to overwhelm me.  He’s been party to a meltdown or two or ten, but to receive a call at work — never before has he had to cope with a long distance breakdown even when I called to tell him an ambulance was transporting Gracen and I to the ER after a frantic 911 call. Today, I could hear the fear in his voice. It devastates me to know I did that to him!

Heaping fear upon grief — I shoulder my load — Gracen’s and David’s too, as they are forced to shoulder mine as well.  Grief felt far more individual when Cole died — or maybe time has just softened the memories, blurring the rough edges of grief, leaving some sharp and biting and others smooth and fading.

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Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  Understand that it is often a struggle for those who mourn to get out of bed, do everyday tasks, leave their homes, socialize. Others become hyper involved; anything to keep themselves moving, distract themselves from the constant pain. Those who mourn may bounce back and forth between the two extremes.

2.  Realize that the bereaved often perform a grieving cha, cha, cha of sorts.  They try to attack their grief, process and get through it, then overwhelmed, try to suppress it, hide from it, deny it’s existence and ignore it.  Be prepared to go with the flow.  Talk through their struggles with them if they bring them up, or grant them the freedom to talk about other things.

3.  Be aware that grieving families often continue to be hit with additional health problems, trips to doctors, hospitals and emergency rooms can trigger mild to dramatic IMG_3339traumatic responses. What may be a minor problem produces anxiety on steroids. Pray them through, sit with them, validate their fears.

4.  Wives seem to take responsibility for maintaining the emotional equilibrium in the home: husbands strive to protect and shelter.  Loss makes both feel anywhere from inadequate to utterly incompetent.  Grieving men need attention too. Most will never ask for it. Invite men to sporting events, movies, poker night, fishing or lunch. They may not talk about their grief, but your presence signals support and encouragement.

5.  Understand that deep grief often brings remorse for having been born at all.  Job felt this way.  Pay attention to suicidal comments — don’t discount them.  A desire to have never been born and suicidal intentions are not synonymous, however, comments to that effect should not be overlooked.  Pray for wisdom and discernment to hear exactly what the individual is communicating through veiled speech.

6.  Be aware that the sense of personal safety and security has been destroyed for every member of the family.  Fear of experiencing another loss  is both common and rational. While uncommon, many families have suffered separate and subsequent deaths of immediate family members. Please don’t discount or brush off a bereaved parent’s fears in this area. It is a legitimate fear and they need it acknowledged.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in Faith, Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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Too Tired . . .

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Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that I can assure you.  Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind. 

 

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Too Tired . . .

I do not know how to do this life I’ve been left with and I really don’t want to figure it out.

I’m tired – not, let’s just end it all tired, but physically, emotionally and spiritually tired.

Tired from staying up later night after night.  3:00, 3:30, 4:00, 4:48, tired.

Tired of trying to figure out what to do with myself, for myself, about myself.

teen-depression-linked-to-online-use-250x190Tired of wondering why God didn’t simply take us all home December 26, 2013, the day of the collision that killed two of my daughters. Tired of wishing He had. Tired of thinking of what the future holds, tired of trying to brainwash myself into believing there just might be something good to get up for every day.

Bone weary, heart achingly tired.

Too tired.  Just too, too tired.

 



 

Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  Offer to take young children for a play date once a week.

2.  Don’t push the bereaved into activities – taking on new hobbies, jobs, etc.

3.  Invite them to do things you know they enjoyed in the past.  If they decline, ask again another day.

IMG_2959 (1)4.  Don’t expect the bereaved to behave as they did before the death of their loved one. They simply aren’t the same people any more.  They have been irrevocably changed in many ways. Don’t encourage them to “get back to normal,” or question when they will.  Don’t quash their attempts to talk about their feelings or their loved one.  They are not wallowing in self-pity, they are experiencing and coping with the normal response to loss.  Grief and self-pity are very different things! The message you are sending with comments such as these is that the bereaved are responsible for ensuring that others are not uncomfortable in their presence and that their loved one no longer matters.  Telling them to choose joy is tantamount to telling them that positive thinking or gaining a new perspective will take their pain away.

images (44)Ultimately, the bereaved feel both defiant and rebuked for loving deeply. Well-intentioned friends and family members inadvertently become unsafe for honest sharing. A failure to validate feelings elevates the turmoil the bereaved are already dealing with. They become angry because they have to  justify their feelings and their right to mourn while simultaneously questioning if they are indulging in self-pity. Invalidation leads to isolation as the grief-stricken find they cannot vent their feelings and wrestle with their faith without rebuke or correction.  Invalidation causes the bereaved to suppress their grief, wear a mask in public, hide their vulnerability and finally, it lengthens the time it takes to work through the process because the bereaved will search and search for safe people to be real with all in an effort to receive validation of both their feelings and the value of their loved one.

5.  Realize that for the bereaved, feeling bad feels bad, but feeling better feels bad too. The psyche is telling the bereaved that feeling better, laughing, having fun and moving forward means that their loved one was not critically important in their life.  Of course, that’s completely untrue, but it’s also a very common and normal way to feel.

6.   Keep an eye open for signs of depression.  Encourage a visit with their doctor for an antidepressant or antianxiety medications.  Encourage grief counseling.  Many churches provide Christian counseling services for their members, the uninsured or IMG_2952underinsured.  Reinforce the truth that depression is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

7.  Keep an ear open for language that might indicate they might be at risk of harming themselves.  If concerned about suicide, ask them outright.  Share your concerns with their spouse, parent or their pastor.  Don’t brush it off – take those words seriously.

8.  Be aware that men, women, siblings and children grieve differently.  Families struggle to do what’s best to allow each individual to grieve in the way that is best for them but those ways are often conflicting.  One needs to talk, to be heard.  Another can’t talk and can’t listen.  If you are close to a bereaved couple, be sure they are understand that everyone grieves differently.  Recommend meeting with a grief counselor if mismatched grieving styles are creating conflict.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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Dread & Anticipation

(Originally posted on Facebook 10/11/14)
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The next three months are filled with the dreaded firsts that the bereaved anticipate with trepidation – birthdays, holidays, and the anniversary of the death itself. Having previous experience grieving the loss of a child, I have found that for me personally, the anticipation of the holiday or anniversary, is often worse than the day itself. Even so, while that means the holiday or anniversary is bearable, the days leading up to them are generally characterized by an undercurrent of sadness. It’s a time where emotions normally tamped down bubble to the surface far more easily resulting in anxiety, primarily regarding the ability to keep my emotions in check in public settings. Therefore, the most notable manifestation of my anxiety will likely be a silent withdrawal from unnecessary activities.

Such an absence does not signal the inability to cope with grief in a healthy manner, but rather a desire for both privacy and an awareness that a display of emotions often makes others very uncomfortable.

In addition to the normal grief triggers the upcoming months hold, on the 23rd of this month, just four days after what would have been Katie’s 17th birthday, the first of the criminal legal proceedings begin. The McDonald County Prosecuting Attorney has convened a Coroner’s Inquest. Inquests are rare legal proceedings. A jury of six is selected and witnesses are called to testify.

The purpose of an Inquest is to determine cause of death when death occurs under suspicious circumstances or by violence. The jury decides if the death was natural, accidental, suicide or murder and if “culpable conduct” contributed to the death. Proving a “culpable mental state” is required in order to gain a conviction for involuntary manslaughter. The jury’s decision as a result of the Inquest will determine if the Prosecutor will file misdemeanor or felony charges against the driver responsible for the accident.

The attorney who is handling the civil litigation (our personal attorney), has told us he expects misdemeanor charges will ultimately be filed and that we can realistically expect the court case to be completely resolved before the end of the year.

So, the next three months will likely be emotional and somewhat stressful. While I know God has a purpose and a plan, that He will see us through every birthday, holiday, the anniversary of the girl’s deaths and the prosecution and sentencing of those responsible, I am also painfully aware that my thoughts are not His thoughts and that His ways are not my ways.

God’s goals are in many ways far more simplistic than mine. His highest priorities involve reaching and redeeming the lost, and conforming the saved into the image of Christ, which sometimes involves time spent on the Potter’s wheel and/or in the Refiner’s fire.

I, on the other hand, AM NOT HOLY! While I too am interested in the salvation of the lost and being conformed into the image of Christ, those goals, if I’m completely honest, are not always, and maybe not even frequently, at the top of my priority list. I am distracted by worldly things, worldly hopes and dreams and sometimes I rebel against or even resent the means God uses to achieve His goals (I’ve heard that still small voice whisper, “Janet, why do you kick against the pricks?”), and sometimes I simply acknowledge His plans with little more than weary, disappointed, resignation; which I guess most accurately expresses how I have viewed the circumstances I have found myself thrust into over the last nine months.

In spite of how I personally feel about God’s most recent intrusion into my . . . Uh, I mean, in spite of how I personally feel about the means God has chosen to achieve His goals (which I believe extend beyond my immediate family), I am completely confident that the Holy Spirit is actively performing a spiritual work within me that God highly values. And one day I will value it too.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Faith, Grief

 

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