All things

Cleaning out my desk the other day, I came across an old clothes-shopping list for my kids. Quite frankly, it jolted me with a fresh wave of grief. My heart twinged as I stared at the list.

Matt

matt and jonathan reading2
Matt reading to his youngest brother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing my son’s name in writing sort of threw me, you see. There are so many things we take for granted: like writing our child’s name. How frequently we write their names…until they are gone.

More and more, I grieve for my other children. Siblings are often the “forgotten grievers.” I ache for their loss. I weep for the times they will never have with their big brother, the memories they will never make with him. I cherish the moments I witness of Matt’s siblings interacting with one another, for I know we are not promised tomorrow, and these seasons are short-lived. But these moments bring a pang of bitter-sweetness to my heart, for I long for Matt to be here among them, to hear his quiet, sarcastic voice intermingle with theirs.

Yet I seek solace and comfort from another small item. Not a list, but a bracelet. A bracelet that declares “With God all things are possible.”

Gold Silver Matt bracelet (3)

Many parents say, “I couldn’t live without my child.” Some of us, however, don’t get a choice. We do live without our child. Every day. I’ve now lived six years without my son. My children have lived six years without their big brother. Matt’s siblings carry a loss daily, but they, too, carry this truth:

All things. All things, even living with child loss, are possible.

All things, even living with sibling loss, are possible.

While many bereaved siblings are the “forgotten grievers” by our society at large, they are not forgotten by God, nor us, the bereaved parents. We remember. We see you. We acknowledge you. Gentle hugs today to all bereaved siblings.

Blessings,

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Signs in the bereavement world

Sadness creeps in during days of July sunlight, and in the midst of happy occasions and also in the quiet reverence of Sunday morning drives to church. As my thoughts sought to land in the place of “going there” with “what ifs” and “If onlys” this past week, the LORD gently, but soundly, said, “Uh, uh. Eyes on me. Not on what you’ve lost or the “What ifs” and “If onlys.” Keep your eyes on Me.

The moments of sadness threaten to overwhelm, but I am being held.

As most of you know, the cardinal is, and has been from the beginning of this grief journey, special to us. It began when we were planning our son’s funeral. While searching for the “perfect” program for our son’s service, we couldn’t find any. You’d think with three albums of programs to choose from, it wouldn’t be difficult to find a suitable one. But there aren’t really funeral programs for teenagers. Finally, however, just as we flipped to the last page of the last album, there was a program with a cardinal on it. We knew instantly that that was the program we wanted. It was “perfect.” Matt was an avid bird watcher. He would sit daily at the dining room table watching the birds at the feeder and knew each variety that visited.

My mom and I also visited several flower shops before the funeral. She was looking for the “perfect” arrangement to contribute, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was that she was looking for. She just knew that when she saw it, she would know it was the one. And she was right, for as we stepped into the entryway of the third shop, our eyes fell upon a resin cardinal on a display shelf at eye-level. We both stopped, looked at one another, and nodded in agreement. It was “it.”

During the visitation, as well, someone mentioned the cardinal, unaware of its significance to us. It was a confirmation to us of God’s presence and comfort, His intimate knowledge of our needs during that time. We noticed, too, even from the first week in this journey of child loss, the cardinal showing up at every single mealtime, no matter at what time meals ended up being. In fact, the cardinal showed up at supper time every single day for a year. Coincidence? Nope. It’s what my grief mom friends and I call a “God Nod.” Or, as many say, a “sign,” a sign that our loved one is near, that they are still present. Personally, I prefer to use the word “God Nod.” These signs are, I believe, God pulling back the curtain, so to speak, of that thin veil between earth and heaven, reassuring us that our precious loved ones are alive and well and ever so close.

Many of my grief mom friends have shared stories of their God Nods. These God Nods evidence in all shapes and sizes. For some, it’s rainbows, double rainbows, dragonflies, petunias, ladybugs, pennies, hearts, etc. For us, it’s the cardinal. Countless times over the past almost six years I’ve witnessed a little God Nod in the appearance of a cardinal.

Most recently, I was a bit sad at one point during a party we were attending, so I walked off by myself for a moment because I was missing Matt, missing having him there with the whole family, and as I walked around the corner of the house, a cardinal flew straight over my head as if to say, “Remember, I’m right here, just beyond the veil.” Only one other time (this summer, in fact) has a cardinal ever flown directly over me.

This past Sunday while driving to church, again, I was sad. I had begun to “go there” with my thoughts, wondering the “What ifs” and “If onlys” when I suddenly had to step on my brakes as a cardinal flew directly in front of my front right bumper. I would have struck it if I hadn’t hit the brakes. And it was like God said, “Uh, huh. Eyes on me. Not on what you’ve lost or the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Keep your eyes on me.

It was a powerful moment, a moment I won’t soon forget. These God Nods are precious. They are moments of great grace. They are intimate whispers from a God who loves deeply, sees all, and comforts tenderly.

I can’t deny the days of the “crapiversary” are pressing in, threatening to pull me under. I feel as if I am treading water, gulping mouthfuls of sorrow and growing weary of fighting the waves of grief. I want to just sink into the depths of loss, but I know that He will uphold me. I know that the LORD is near, and I trust that He will strengthen me and hold me. I know that He speaks through simple, seemingly insignificant “God Nods,” nods that remind me of His love and care. He grants these small signs that make me aware of His presence, His presence so close that I can almost feel His breath upon my neck.

Oh, God, I need you. I need you to remind me that I am Yours and You are mine. I need to know I am loved by You. I need You and You alone, for You are my God.

Grieving with hope,

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The space between feelings

I’ve been quiet, I know. Those of you who have children know the adage that if your toddler is quiet, then you know they’re into something they shouldn’t be. Similarly, I write and post regularly, and if I’m not, then something is up. The “up” is a myriad of things: birthdays, graduations, holiday celebrations, the summer calendar, etc. Life in general is busy. But busy, while challenging, doesn’t typically keep me away from the keyboard.

What keeps me away from the keyboard is the processing of emotions. I’ve felt, in fact, a bit like a toddler lately: happy, with a cheerful disposition one minute, but contrary and disposed to throwing a tantrum the next. Bearing down like a fast-moving locomotive, the impending “crapiversary” date barrels along the grief track. I admit I’ve been burying my head like an ostrich, pretending July 29th doesn’t exist, keeping myself busy, hoping that doing so will somehow “bypass” the date. Like riding a Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair, I’ve been filling my days with non-stop activity, hoping the dizziness of the grief ride will somehow make the 29th spin by. Only child loss grief isn’t an amusing carnival ride.

Over the 4th of July holiday weekend, I finally stopped the busyness. I stood still with the pile of perplexing toddler-like emotions and realized what feeling I had failed to identify. I was sad. I am sad that we are, again, marking another year without our son. It still sucks. It will always suck. And I am sad. I miss my boy. My husband misses his son. My children miss their brother.

For whatever reason, sadness wasn’t an emotion I easily identified. Anger, yes. Sadness, no. I suppose it’s because the ache is always there, the loss always present. Grief is a constant, though not as cutting or as fresh as it was in the beginning. I’m used to grief. But sadness is different. It’s hard to explain. However, for as much as there is sadness, there is grace. Grace for every day, grace for every moment.

You are my hiding place

Once I acknowledged the feeling of sadness, things shifted. Peace came, and I spent the rest of the holiday weekend with feelings of joy and sadness coexisting. Acknowledging the sadness allowed joy into the space, as it is in validation that feelings become manageable, for it is in bringing them to God that we are held in His arms and He bears our burdens. Some, indeed, bury their grief, but we are not designed to bury it. We were designed to lament, to pour out our hearts before the Lord, both in praise and in pain. When we bury feelings, we bury love, and to love is to live.

Instead of hiding my feelings, I want to hide myself in Him. Our God is a God of comfort. He is tender and compassionate. He is abounding in love and His grace is enough. He is bigger than our grief, His love greater and deeper than our loss. Yes, grief remains and there is sadness. But there is also a deeply settled joy, a sure and certain hope, and a peace that passes understanding. There is laughter and happy moments, and a vibrant love that lives on. I am secure because I am covered by the love of God, sheltered beneath His wings. He is my hiding place.

Blessings,

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My soul weeps

July 1st. A new month. Many look forward to it with happy anticipation and joyful expectation of a fun-filled summer month. Independence Day celebrations and fireworks galore will fill the skies. Birthdays will be celebrated and the hot summer days beckon the human race to slow their pace, to soak in memories like rays of sunshine.

But for those, like me, whose child died in July, it is a slow, agonizing month. Like many bereaved parents, the countdown to the “crapiversary” date began the month before. Every day that passed stomped relentlessly forward. Like many bereaved parents, I just want to skip the entire month in which my child died. I want to skip July.

Of course, I realize this isn’t possible. And, once again, I’m left with no choice. The reality is my son is gone. There will be no 4th of July celebration with him, no listening to him bantering with his siblings, or overhearing relaxed conversations with the visiting relatives during vacation.

weeps with grief
And my heart aches. My soul weeps with grief. I woke this morning asking God for His strength and grace to make it through the day as I mentally ticked off the number of days until the 29th. This daily loss? It never goes away. Child loss isn’t something you ever get over because your child never comes back. For as long as I live there will be a headstone with my son’s name on it. It remains horrific to me.

And yet life goes on. At times, I still cannot fathom it. If not for the autonomic nervous system, my heart would not still be beating, I am sure. If not for the foundation of Truth upon which I stand, I would not have survived, I am surer still.

“From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2

God’s word comes back to me in these moments, sustaining me, giving me hope and encouragement. His words give me strength and life. His promises carry me forward. His love overwhelms me. His grace pours out, and His presence comforts me. I am reminded that my son is ALIVE in heaven, that this life is just a “skip,” a hand breadth, a mist, a vapor. I remember that this world is not my home, that there is a place of perfection that awaits, a world without sin, where death will be no more. I call to mind that God is perfect and His ways are not my ways, that He is good and holy. I remember that if Jesus did nothing else for me in this life, He gave me salvation, and that is more than enough.

I begin to give thanks. I begin to see beauty and count the ways the LORD has been good to me. I thank God for His love and mercy, for His provision and power. I thank Him that when grief overwhelms, He is never overwhelmed. He is never surprised, yet delights in us and in His creation. He rejoices and He sorrows with us. I do not have an impotent God or wishful thinking. I have a sure and certain hope in a God who is sure and certain.

I choose this day to acknowledge my grief and loss, but I also choose this day to trust the LORD with it, to believe that He will do what He says in Isaiah 61:3 “…and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”

Blessings,

Angie signature

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,

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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