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,

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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