How do I do this child loss thing?

I don’t know when the countdown began. I only know it has started. The heaviness in my chest moved in the other day, like an elephant foot planting itself on my heart, not caring where it landed, squeezing the breath out of me. Words have begun to fail me, and I do not want to write. I know what it is, and I still want to deny it. I want to deny grief, I want to deny the loss of my son. I want to run away, bury myself in busyness and ignore the coming days. I don’t want to make room for sorrow, for I have worked too damn hard at finding joy and carving a space for laughter and light. I fear drowning in grief again as July draws near. July 29th. The day my 16 year old, my firstborn, died. Oh, this still sucks, this grief.

The six year anniversary of the day Matt died is coming up, and I still have moments of utter disbelief. (See? I can’t even believe I’m saying years much less six.) I still wonder at times if this is some kind of horrific nightmare from which to wake up.

But it’s not.

It’s real life. My life.

This “crapiversary” (a term I’m borrowing from Anna Whiston-Donaldson from her blog An Inch of Gray) certainly isn’t like the first five. We’ve survived. Unbelievably. We’ve come such a long way since the beginning of the brutal induction into this “club” of child loss.

It truly testifies to God’s word. Every morning since the day my son died, God’s lovingkindnesses and compassions have not failed. They were new every morning, and His grace was, and is, sufficient for each and every day. Of course, there were days when it certainly didn’t feel as if it were enough, but it was. It was because I am alive, my family is alive, and our lives are a testimony to His abundant grace. We are well. Matt is still gone, but he is alive and lives in heaven. We still grieve, but we are good.

Lamentations

We still talk about Matt daily, remembering things about him which make us feel he is close, remembering all the things that made him uniquely Matt. I cherish the “God Nods,” those little, but big “signs” that reassure us he is not so far away, that God sees our hurting hearts and acknowledges them.

My heart twinges bittersweetly at the occasional glimpses of Matt I see: in the way his younger brother walks, when I read a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, or when I catch a glimpse of a dark-skinned 16 year old boy with glasses and a buzz haircut. I cherish the reminders, though they cause the ache in my heart to flare up.

Each crapiversary has been different, our family participating in whatever way felt “right” that year. The plan for this year? Uffda. It’s different, all right. My family is staying home while I attend The Compassionate Friends National Conference in Orlando, FL. The conference falls right over the crapiversary date. Besides being with my family, what better place to be for the anniversary of my son’s death than with thousands of other bereaved parents? It will be tough, but it will be good. I will be way out of my comfort zone (Because traveling is NOT my thing and volunteering to introduce workshop presenters puts me in FRONT of people when I’m far more comfortable behind the scenes!), but I know this is where I should be this year.

As July crouches close, I am reminded to stick ever closer to Christ. Last week, this post, in particular, hit me hard. The excerpt below is from Joni Eareckson Tada’s interview with World Magazine:

Does depression still ensnare you at times? Are you happy? I make myself be happy. I make myself sing because I have to. The alternative is too frightening. My girlfriends will tell you, in the morning when I wake up, I know they’ll be coming into my bedroom to give me a bed bath, do my toileting routines, pull up my pants, put me in the wheelchair, feed me breakfast, and push me out the front door. I lie there thinking (gagging noise), “Oh God, I cannot face this. I’m so tired of this routine. My hip is killing me. I’m so weary. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to lunchtime. I have no energy for this day. God, I can’t do quadriplegia. But I can do all things through You as You strengthen me. So God, I have no smile for these girlfriends of mine who are going to come in here with a happy face. Can I please borrow Your smile? I need it, desperately. I need You.”

I echo Joni’s words, only instead of her words “God, I can’t do quadriplegia,” I utter, “God, I can’t do this child loss thing. ” There are moments, days, where I, too, think this is just too much, I can’t take this any longer. I can’t do it. I’m so tired of it all, so tired of grief.

Additionally, Joni says:

Our weakness, God’s strength. I hate the prospect of having to face the day with paralysis. I choose the Holy Spirit’s help because I don’t want to go down that grim, dark path to depression any more. That’s the biblical way to wake up in the morning, the only way to wake up in the morning. No wonder the Apostle Paul said, “Boast in your afflictions.” Don’t be ashamed of them. Don’t think you have to hide them and gussy yourself up before God in the morning so that He’ll be happy with you and see that you’re really believing in Him. No, no, no. Admit you can’t do this thing called life. Then cast yourself at the mercy of God and let Him show up through your weakness because that’s what He promises—2 Corinthians 12:9.

Again, I relate to her words. I hate the prospect of having to face the day with child loss, yet another day without my precious son. But, like Joni, I recite God’s word and promises to myself. I can’t do this child loss thing by myself. I throw myself at His mercy, where I am promised His strength and am reminded that His compassions never fail, and His lovingkindnesses never stop. They are new every morning. Every morning. (Lam. 3:22-23) I don’t have to worry about July 29th, wondering how I (or my family) will make it through yet another anniversary. I am promised enough grace for each day, as much grace as that particular day will need.

He is a compassionate and faithful God…for every day, every circumstance, every need.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Grief doesn’t play by the rules

The thing about grief is that we wish we could pack it up into a little box and shove it under the bed, keep it out of sight. But grief is a vicious beast. He doesn’t play by the rules, he is a wild animal. And wild animals are unpredictable. Just when you think you have a handle on him, have him tamed just a tad, he lunges at you. He fastens his teeth and refuses to let go. This is the beast of the bereaved.

lion and a box Phoenix Zoo image
Grief takes a nasty bite and leaves an indelible mark. However, every animal has its enemy, and grief’s enemy is truth and joy. Truth tackles grief to the ground, subduing his power. Grief may have taken a bite, but truth is the Lion of Judah, the undefeated King over all.

Grief knocks the wind out of the bereaved, but the answer doesn’t lie in fighting back (for we all know we’re overpowered). Our power comes when we choose to believe truth. Truth leaps in, overpowering our adversary. Truth secures the victory.
In your grief, have you grabbed hold of the truth? The truth is that our loved ones (and us) are never out of reach of God’s love. The truth is that God redeems ALL things. He redeems what grief destroys. He has a plan, a good plan, that we will someday see fulfilled. He wastes nothing. There is no sorrow so deep that He cannot touch. His power is greater than the enemy’s.

While grief leaves you scarred, truth binds you up, stems the bleeding. The scar remains, but joy is the courage to remove the bandage, to look the enemy in the face and acknowledge that God’s final word is not grief and despair, but joy and peace. He purposes redemption. Joy is possible because grief doesn’t have the final word. You can slide the box out from under the bed because grief doesn’t need to stay there. Grief may occupy the space, but there’s room in the box for truth and joy.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Mother’s Day for the bereaved mother

Ann Voskamp wrote a profoundly moving post for Mother’s Day: The most life-changing thing a woman can do for herself this Mother’s Day…What a mother really wants. It’s powerful and truthful and speaks to probably every mother on this big, amazing planet.

But after reading it, I found myself thinking, “No. No, that’s not all what every mother wants.” Because, for bereaved mothers, Mother’s Day is painful. Mother’s Day is just another public, neon-flashing sign that declares “Your child is not here!” It is salt to an open wound.

What does every bereaved mother really want?

They wanted to be out-lived by their child(ren).

Ann’s right, however. Every mother needs a “truckload of Grace.” Especially the bereaved mother.

Friends, this Mother’s Day, will you remember the mother whose child is no longer here? Will you give the best Mother’s Day gift you can give to a bereaved mom?

Speak their child’s name. Talk about them. Ask her about him/her. Acknowledge that Mother’s Day is hard for her. Tell her she is still a mother.

The hardest thing about Mother’s Day for a bereaved mom? Their child is gone.

The best thing about Mother’s Day for the bereaved mom? Love remains.

And their love for their child yearns to be recognized this Mother’s Day, every Mother’s Day. Give the bereaved mother grace this weekend. Pray for God’s grace to overwhelm her. It doesn’t matter if she has other children. It doesn’t matter if it’s been 30 years since her child died. I can guarantee you she still loves that child, still misses that child, still longs to celebrate Mother’s Day with that child. She’s not being ungrateful for what she has. She’s not “stuck” in the past. She’s doing what she does best for that child: loving him/her.

This Mother’s Day it’s okay to tell the bereaved mother, “Happy Mother’s Day…to all of your children.”

Blessings,

Angie signature

 

There is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card for child loss

22 years ago on May 1st, I was heavily pregnant with our firstborn child. We were everything first time parents are: scared, excited, and naive. My husband and I didn’t know what the next 24 hours held for us as we sat on our Boucle sofa late afternoon all those years ago.

But then my water broke.

I’ll spare you all the labor and birth/c-section details, however, and cut to the chase: 23 hours after my water broke, our precious baby was born. I heard the words, “It’s a boy!” but the long labor, the drugs, and the c-section left me barely conscious. A nurse held my newly-born son next to my cheek so I could greet him, but, instead, I drifted off to la-la land. It was hours before I was awake and alert enough from surgery to “ooooh” and “aaahh” over him.

22 years ago at 4:59pm on May 2, my son was born.

And I will never think of his birth without thinking of his death.

See, that’s the way it is with child loss. There is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card when you’ve lost a child.

Image result for get out of jail free card clip art

Every birthday, every holiday, every family gathering, every family picture, and every celebration is overcast with a faint cloud of grief. The longing for, and the absence of, my son fills every one of those memorable moments. There is no rhyme or reason with grief, as those who experience it will attest. This sixth birthday without Matt? I’m tired of trying to be strong. I’m weary of putting on a happy face. I don’t want to “Pollyanna”-up today.

And you know what? There is sweet relief in admitting it. There is a peace that fills my aching heart because I know I don’t have to do this child loss thing alone. I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to pretend it’s okay. I don’t have to buy into the world’s way of thinking that says it’s all or nothing, that we’re either happy or sad.

No, because the truth is that joy and sorrow coexist. The truth is that I am held. The truth is that I can be incredibly thankful for the gift of my son and incredibly sad that he’s not here with us for his 22nd birthday. The truth is that when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 corinthians 12 verse 9

It’s hard to find hope when hurt obscures our sight. But God already knows this, which is why He calls us to walk by faith and not by sight. It’s why we, like David, hide His word in our hearts. (Psalm 119:11) Pain tempts us to lash out, to stumble and fall in our faith walk. Yet God tells us, not to see this world and it’s hurts, but to see beyond, to see Him and His hope.

God knew my heavy heart this morning even before I opened my eyes. He had already prepared the devotional I was about to read, the exact words He knew I needed to hear today. It made me weep because of His love and tenderness toward me.

Choosing to See Beyond Your Grief
Jennifer Rothschild —- May 1, 2017

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” Ephesians 1:18 (NIV)

I remember when I heard the news. I was elated and squealed and cried! I hugged our kids, my husband, the dog and anyone else close enough to grab!

I asked my son and daughter-in-law a million questions. And then, hours later, alone in my bed, I processed the news … alone in the reality of fresh loss. The sadness closed in like the final curtain after a beautiful play. Elation was replaced by reality — a reality that brought feelings I never expected.

The reality is, I’m blind. I am about to become a grandma, and I won’t see my grandbaby’s eyes. I won’t know if he has Clayton’s nose or Caroline’s mouth. I won’t see his smile. I won’t see his tiny hands balled into fists as he toddles on chunky little legs taking his first steps. I was deflated. I wept. I asked God a million questions as I hugged my pillow.

Lord, I won’t be able to care for him or take him to the park or color with him or even play peek-a-boo.

Will he think of me as the grandma who isn’t fun? Will he feel safe with me? Will I be the grandma he’s unsure of until he’s old enough to understand?

As I tossed and turned and prayed and cried, I thought of how much I wanted to feel gratitude, not grief. Joy, like when I first heard the news … before sorrow clouded my vision.

I lost my sight at 15, but now at 53, becoming a grandma is forcing me to grieve blindness in new and unexpected ways.

Grief and gratefulness can share the same heartbeat, but they don’t always share the same viewpoint. I want to see beyond grief and fix my eyes only on gratefulness.

That’s why I need to see with my heart. And, sister, I have a strong feeling I’m not the only one. But we can’t unless God opens the eyes of our hearts, as our key verse says:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (Ephesians 1:18).

When God opens the eyes of our hearts, we can see the hope to which we are called. We’re not called to despair or constant grief; we are called to hope.

God wants to open our spiritual eyes so we can see hope with our hearts. When we see with our hearts, we see blessing and potential tucked within loss and disappointment.

When we see with our hearts, we focus on what we have, not what we’ve lost. We view our situations, our whole lives, through the eyes of gratefulness. And grateful eyes will always see hope.

Seeing with our hearts doesn’t mean we won’t still hurt. It doesn’t mean we see everything through rose-colored filters. Grief is still real, and grief still hurts. But when we ask God to open our spiritual eyes, we see beyond the
loss.

I may not see little dimples and dancing brown eyes with my eyes, but I can feel wonder when I touch that satiny skin. I may not see that baby’s sweet face, but I can hear a thousand anthems of praise in his giggle. I can caress infant skin bearing the fingerprint of God and feel gratefulness and hope radiate through my grief. I can and will see that baby with my heart.

You may hold unexpected grief in your heart today. Maybe you carry a burden that makes you grateful or a gift that makes you cry. No matter what life looks like for you today, God can help you see it with the eyes of your heart.

I know He can, my sister, because that’s what He’s doing for me. When we see with our hearts, hope bursts on the horizon, no matter how cloudy or dark the day.

God is the one who opens eyes. He opens eyes of the blind and those who see perfectly but are blinded by disappointment, loss or grief.

So, if what you see discourages you, ask God to open the eyes of your heart and fix them on what is unseen. Because what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Dear Lord, focus my spiritual eyes so I can see Your hand, Your heart and Your purpose in all I experience. Let me see with my heart today and every day, so I can see hope. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (NIV)

– See more at: http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/choosing-to-see-beyond-your-grief/#sthash.4eYVSxr5.dpuf

I don’t have to look ahead at the day today (or tomorrow) and wonder how I’m going to get through it. Instead, I need only to look at Him, Christ Jesus, who bears my sorrows, my sins, and my weakness and becomes my strength, my song, and my joy.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Dear Matt,

As your 22nd birthday draws near, I’m finding it harder and harder to “deal.” I want to scream at the clock to stop ticking. I yearn to crawl into bed and lie there until May 3rd. I want to shut down, drown out the world, drift far, far away. I am angry at everything and nothing because sometimes it’s just easier than falling apart. You know what sucks? This. This trying to celebrate the birthday of a child who died. I still want to scream, “It’s not fair!” It still feels surreal that you are not here, and I wonder if it always will. I want to make a cake and buy presents for you. I want to see you open your gifts and hear your deep, quiet voice while I watch in delight as you respond with that trademark smirk-smile.

But I can’t.

Because you are gone. You died.

And I am left to make the best of it. I’m left to try to find things to be thankful for when all I really want is to have you back with us. I’m left to remember and cherish the memories of you, the memories that were once all joy but are now all bittersweet. It SUCKS. It really, really sucks.

Oh, my son. How I miss you so.

This is hard.

But here we are, marking your 22nd birthday without you, the sixth one since you left this earth without warning one bright, sunny summer morning. Your birthday this year falls on a Tuesday, just like the year when you were born. I’ll never forget, of course, how surprised we were when the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” We were so sure we were having a girl. So sure, in fact, that even though we had had a boy’s name picked out, I called you Rachel almost the whole pregnancy. Haha! I’m not sure I ever told you that story, Matt.

Though I was disappointed at having a c-section after 23 hours of labor, I was never disappointed in having a boy. God gave me exactly what I needed. You were a gift, a gift beyond what words can describe. I still can’t believe the hospital let us take you home! Like most first-time parents, we didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew we were blessed beyond belief. We had a beautiful baby boy who stole our hearts the very second we knew we were expecting.

The pain of separation overwhelms me at times like this. Yet God tenderly whispers reminders of the truth: You are alive. You died, yet you live. God’s story is life, death, life. This life is not all there is. This is not forever. Death does not reign. Grief is temporary. Our “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:17) We will be reunited, and never again will we be separated. God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

Matt, you are and were God’s gift to me, to us. I cherish every memory, every photo, every moment we were allowed to have with you. We’re keeping it simple this year for your birthday and spending the day hanging out at the pool, which you loved. Your dad and others will drink a McDonald’s Mocha Frappe, also a favorite of yours. More than anything, I will lean into the One who holds you. I will look to the Giver of life and the author and perfecter of my faith, Jesus Christ, who died for me and for you…so that we could have life eternal.

I love you, Mateo.

Love, Mom

68
Ah…that look. Matt, age 15.

When the grief fog comes rolling in

We are exactly two weeks away from Matt’s birthday. He would be 22 years old. Writing that just now, I swallow a lump in my throat and shut the door on the silent scream that wells up in my mind. How I wish more than anything that my son were here. My heart physically hurts.

I have dreaded every turn of the calendar page since December. May is coming. May is coming, and we don’t really have a “plan” in place for how to survive yet another year without our boy. Oh, we’ll do the usual and escape to a hotel nearby. Anything to get out of the house. See, birthdays are always celebrated at home in our family. The siblings all gather round and gift their brother and/or sister cheap presents from The Dollar Store and, of course, their Dad always throws in a prank gift like a bottle of car oil or something stupid. I always made a cut-up cake from scratch when the kids were little, but their sister took over the job of cake decorating (she’s insanely talented!) several years ago, so now they get a really delicious, incredible cake.

But how do you celebrate the birthday of a life cut short? How do you celebrate when your heart is crushed? Can it really be a happy birthday?

I’ve gotten quite good at dodging the “How many kids do you have?” question and the subsequent “How old are they?” question over the past almost six years. Just today, in fact, I got asked both questions. I always answer seven for the first question. And when I was asked how old my children were, I lightly replied, “My youngest is eight, and they pretty much go up every two or three years from there.” Funny, right? But my heart ached horribly because some days I just don’t want to explain that our oldest isn’t here or why.

I wish with all my heart that we were celebrating Matt’s birthday with him here. But all the wishing in the world isn’t going to change reality. Instead, we will do the best we can to honor Matt’s memory. We will keep love alive in our hearts and cherish the memories. I will remind myself of the truth: My son is ALIVE. I will see him again. This life is short, it’s just a blink. Joy and nothing but joy awaits. When the grief fog comes rolling in, I will fix my eyes on the unseen, on a God who is faithful and true, on the God of all comfort. I will give thanks for the precious gift I was blessed to hold for sixteen short years. We will do the things Matt loved: drink a McDonald’s Mocha Frappe, swim in the pool, and love on his siblings. I can’t promise I’ll be happy, but I will be grateful. Will you pray for us, friends, as we observe Matt’s birthday on May 2? Thank you. We appreciate you!

Blessings,

Angie signature

matt2RR-2
Matt – Jan. 2011 – The night before BPA (Business Professionals of America) Regional Competition

The perfect thing to say

I watched this tonight. It’s six minutes long. Go ahead. Watch it. I’ll be waiting right here when you get back.

Powerful, right? And as I sit here on Easter Sunday, not a moment went by today that I didn’t miss my son as I appreciated with profound gratitude my remaining children. I thanked God for the precious memories we made today and wept over the memories I will never get with my oldest.

I am committed to grief education. Scott Pelley has learned the lessons from these Sandy Hook parents well. This is why I share the video. I never want another bereaved parent to hear the words, “So are things all better now?” ten weeks after losing their child. (True story. And I don’t share it out of bitterness, but out of compulsion to educate those on what not to say to a bereaved parent.)

“One of the things that I learned from them — maybe the most profound thing that I learned — is that even after the passage of years, every single one of them was adamant that they had not moved on,” Pelley says. “They had moved forward in many ways in their lives, but they all felt that they would never recover or begin to recover from the loss of their child.”

I absolutely agree that we don’t “move on,” rather, we “move forward.” However, I disagree that you will never recover. Of course, you don’t “recover” your child, so in that sense, no, you don’t recover. But you do heal in the sense that you learn to live again and find joy in what remains. To shun healing is to make God out to be a liar, and God does not lie. He says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

“The perfect thing to say is, ‘Tell me about your child,’” Pelley explains. Avoiding mention of a deceased child when speaking to a bereaved parent is often the worst response, Pelley has learned, because the child’s life isn’t acknowledged. Asking about a lost child may bring a parent to tears, but the question is an important gesture.

As we come to the end of this Resurrection day, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, I can look forward to eternity in heaven. I will be in the presence of God in a sinless, perfect world. I will gaze into my son’s eyes, hold him in my arms, and hear his voice. I will no longer know what grief feels like or the pain of separation. Death will be no more, and life will be pure joy. Nothing but joy. All because of Jesus. God’s great love for us should cause us to ask Him also, “Tell me about your Son.”

“How Deep The Father’s Love For Us”
(Words and Music by Stuart Townend)
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Blessings,

Angie signature