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My Consolation in Sorrow

iStock_000019848651_Medium-600x400When you lose a loved one to death, you quickly recognize that a great number of people sympathize, even empathize (vicariously experience) with your loss. Close friends and family grieve with you because they lost a friend, a brother, a parent or grandchild too. Some simply grieve for you because they love you but were not personally connected to the one who died. But very few people actually grieve in like manner with you. Even parents experience grief in unique ways. Men often process their sorrow and loss far differently than women do.

I have been blessed by numerous friends and family who have grieved both with me and for me, but none grieved as I. No one grieved as “the mother” with the obliterated heart. None but one. None but one. And I count that one woman as one of my greatest blessings in the midst of all this heartache.

10492559_10152550256319610_3231914152675065142_nHer name is Teresa and I never would have guessed just what she would come to mean to me. (Pictured left, Teresa and her husband, Jakob).

Frankly, I didn’t know Teresa well when my daughters died. I knew who she was, we’d spoken briefly, she is the mother of the young man my oldest daughter had been dating for two and a half years.

 

Teresa, her sister and her son, Alex, stepped in and met practical needs for us following the accident that took Bethany and Katie’s lives. David and I were tied up at the hospital – not wanting to leave the side of our surviving daughter. Teresa and Alex took on the arduous task of purchasing burial garb for both girls. I never saw what they choose but was told Alex had insisted on a scarf in Bethany’s favorite color, pink. They also retrieved all Bethany’s worldly goods from her campus apartment and delivered them to our home. But none of those things explains why Teresa is so special to me.

10525854_805830962812159_8008800412709942090_nAt the time of Bethany’s death, Teresa and her family were living in Sweden. The family moved back to the states approximately six months after the funeral. Her family met us for lunch shortly after their move. I had no idea what to expect and I was a bit nervous. They had been so kind, so generous. Their daughter Emma had written and performed a beautiful song for which her father, Jakob, created a photo montage (Bethany’s Song). Emma also painted a treasured picture of Bethany that hangs in our living room. But in spite of all that, I didn’t know them well but I was aware that they didn’t share the faith that had become so interwoven into my very being. I was afraid my faith would be offensive to them and maybe even afraid that they could find the chink in my spiritual armor and open Pandora’s box in the midst of my suffering. I knew I was vulnerable.

It was at that lunch in an extremely crowded Freddie’s that I discover the blessing that is Teresa. She is God’s gift to me from an entirely selfish perspective. Let me say that Teresa is a wonderful woman in an absolutely average way; the way most women are. They work jobs, raise children, care for their homes and support their husbands.  They don’t live in the spotlight but they are the glue, the strength and the heart of their homes. They are good friends, and contribute to their communities, largely behind the scenes. They are the heart and soul of this world far more than any politician, famous actor, musician or celebrity. Teresa is just such a woman – the world is filled with such talented, everyday but far from average women who make a difference in their small corner of the world. But what makes Teresa so special to me had little to do with any of those things either.

What I discovered about Teresa in that crowded fast food restaurant, what makes her so special to me, what sets her apart as a gift that could have only come from God is only one thing. Teresa loved Bethany with a mother’s heart. Not like a mother, but as if she had adopted Bethany as her own child. Teresa expressed grief that day that mirrored my own. I have not encountered one other person whose feelings and grief over Bethany’s or Katie’s deaths so closely reflected my own.

In the months that followed, Teresa and I got together many times. Over and over she expressed feelings so very similar to mine. The last time we got together, I told her that I find myself embarrassed because people always ask me how Gracen is doing. They always tell me that they are praying for her. And while I am so thankful for that, there is this quiet voice within that wonders if no one cares about how I’m doing, that wonders if anyone is praying for me. I feel selfish. And I feel as if everyone expects me, or David and I, to be finished grieving – to be moving forward.

Teresa confided in me that day that her friends and family also ask how her son is doing; not how she is doing. She too feels as if people expect her to be beyond her grief. What she’s really communicating is that others knew and expected Alex to grieve deeply, but didn’t expect Teresa to grieve as deeply as her son. They understood Alex’s close relationship with Bethany – his grief was expected, but they didn’t realize the depth of the relationship Teresa had developed with Bethany as well. Her grief was unexpected because her love for Bethany was outside the norm of parent relationships with their children’s girlfriends or boyfriends.

In part, Teresa is a treasure because she validates the progression (or lack thereof) of my grief journey. She makes me feel normal in the midst of my personal nightmare. But most of all Teresa is a blessing because her grief is mine. She loved my daughter to such a degree that her heart is as broken as mine.

Bethany was a fortunate beneficiary of Teresa’s love in life and I’ve been the beneficiary of her grief. I’ve benefited by the knowledge of how deeply Teresa loved my girl – I’ve benefited by the gift of someone to share the depths of my loss – to know I’m not alone in my deepest sorrow. I’ve benefited by the friendship she’s bestowed upon me.

While I would never wish my pain and sorrow on another, I can’t begin to describe the ways in which Teresa’s grief has been a consolation for me. There are so many ways in which words meant to comfort unintentionally diminish the value of the loved one lost. Teresa, added value to Bethany’s life and memory. That is why Teresa is such a special blessing to my aching heart.

Thank you, Teresa, for loving my girl and for freely sharing your grief with me.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2016 in Grief, Links, Music

 

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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.

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

 

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