Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: My Story of Child Loss and Faith

This is a hard one for me to post. It feels more vulnerable. It’s one thing to try and write what you’re feeling and thinking for people to read. Especially when you can hide behind the security of the internet. It’s quite another to say it out loud, in public. But even then there is a level of security with that because you can walk away and it’s over. But when your talk has been recorded and you decide to post it on the internet, where anyone can see it and nothing ever goes away, it’s a very scary thing.

This is my story. It’s personal. It’s hard. It’s emotional. But I share it because I believe I have something to say that can help others.

Last year I had the opportunity to share my story at my uncle’s church.

My Dad’s side of the family was gathering for a family reunion in Iowa where he grew up. My uncle seized the opportunity and asked me to speak at his church. I quickly discovered it’s more nerve wracking to speak in front of family than it is to speak in front of strangers. I woke up that morning full of nerves, I remember saying to my cousin “What made me think this would be a good idea.”

My Uncle Chuck is the one who introduces me in this video. When he asks anyone who’s related to me to stand up, 3/4 of the small town church stood up. (Most were in town for the reunion). You’ll notice my reaction . . . ya, I freak out a bit.

I’m sorry the sound quality isn’t the best. We had some trouble getting the video copied. You should be able to hear it if you turn up the volume, just watch out for the crying baby who’ll blow out your speakers. 😉

I’ve heard from some people that they cannot hear the video. So I’m posting the content below:

I would like to begin today by introducing you to my boys. Dawson, my oldest is one of the smartest people I know. When he was 4 years old I bought him non-toddler Transformer toys. They were rated for ages 8 and up. Dawson eagerly opened the directions and sat down to figure out his new toy. I will say Dawson is the only male I know who willingly reads directions. After a while he brought me the Transformer and the directions. He was having trouble and needed help. It turns out 8 and up does not include adults. It was well beyond my skill level and I was unable to help Dawson. I apologized to my 4 year old, and he sat back down with his directions. It wasn’t long before he came to me with his Transformer completely transformed. As he grew his engineering mind had him building things out anything he could find. He even built himself a Transformer costume. To this day when I need something put together or figured out Dawson is always the one I think of. Shy, sensitive and stubborn, Dawson is entirely to much like me.

Devin, my youngest was born with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. As a toddler if the house was quite, I knew he was into something he shouldn’t be. When he was 3 years old, my grandparents came for a visit. All the adults were in the living room talking. Devin walked into the living room, marched right up to my mom and said “Grandma, give me a dollar”. My mom, a bit taken back said, “Why should I give you a dollar”. Devin very sweetly replied, “Give me a dollar and I’ll give you a drink”. “But Devin, I’m not thirsty”, my mom replied. Devin just repeated his offer. The two went back and forth for a little bit, until my mom finally said reaching for her water bottle, “Devin I’m not thirsty, and if I was, . . . she reached for her water bottle and it was gone! The little imp and snuck in stolen her water bottle and was trying to sell it back to her for a dollar. In that moment I knew I was in trouble. One afternoon Devin proudly told me his 4th grade class voted him class clown . . . twice.

January 22, 2011 was a beautiful and chilly Saturday morning. I was headed out for a photo shoot. The boys and their dad were going out on an adventure. The morning was hectic and chaotic as we were all trying to get ready and out the door. I was rushing around trying to make sure everyone ate breakfast, while also trying to get ready for my shoot. I rushed up the stairs while Dawson answered the front door. I saw the back of his head as he talked to his uncle. As I was doing my hair Devin came up behind me and pet the underside of my arms while smiling his sweet smile at me in the mirror. Eventually we were all out the door.

My client ended up not showing up for the photo shoot, so I headed home much earlier than planned. As a result I was home when the call came in. With that one phone call my world came crashing down. My family was in a fatal car accident. From the moment I got the call time stopped. A day that began full of the promise of family fun became a day of trauma that altered the course of my life.

At the time the doctor told me my boys had not survived the accident I basically shut down. I really don’t know how long it took for my brain to begin functioning again. What I do know was the first few thoughts that crossed my mind became defining moments for me.

The first conscious thought I remember having was the realization that God knew when they were born, my boys lives would be short. In that moment the thought brought me a small measure of peace, because I knew God was in control and I would not turn my back on him.

The second defining thought was a fragment of Romans 8:28. It went through my mind like a flash of lightening. The thought that God would make something good come from all this. From that moment, I have clung to that promise with a death grip. It has been this promise that enables me to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Someday I will see something good come from this pain.

The third defining moment for me was actually a decision I made. Standing, next to my dad, in the hallway of the hospital, I decided I was going to be real with my pain. My thought process behind this decision was that I did not want to hide behind the “God is good, so life is good” attitude I had seen growing up in the church. I wanted to show people that God and pain could co-exist in life.

I don’t know where this idea that the Christian life is easy and free from pain comes from. When people are struggling they are often met with comments like “you just need to pray more, have more fain, maybe you did something wrong”. These comments, this attitude communicate that pain in life equals you’re not Christian enough, you don’t love God. If you just had more faith life would be great. This is such an unbiblical attitude and it makes me mad. God NEVER promised us a life without pain. What he did promise us was that he would be with us in our pain. This is what I wanted people to see through me as I grieved the loss of my boys.

In 2013 I wrote a blog post I want to share with you.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted ~ Matthew 5:4

       I never understood this verse. How can you call someone who is mourning blessed? I think someone mourning would think they were anything but blessed.

       Then I found out what it really means to mourn. I know what it feels like to be so deep in grief you forget to breath. I know what its like to feel the crushing weight of grief so heavy that you can’t breathe. I certainly didn’t feel blessed. And I still didn’t really understand this verse.

       Yet, it was in some of those moments of grief, that I felt God’s presence and heard his voice. It’s hard to describe what it felt like one day to have this overwhelming peace spread through me. To know that it was from God and to hear him tell me he had everything under control. It was a “peace that passes all understanding”(Philippians 4:7) that only God can give.

       But I still didn’t understand. I’d lost everything that mattered.

Then the other night I was thinking about all the times God came along beside me in my grief, all the people he sent to pray for me and support me and then it dawned on me . . . . I’m not blessed because I mourn, I’m blessed because in my grief God made his presence known and comforted me.

       It’s in the word “comforted” the blessing lies, not in the mourning. It is an amazing blessing to feel God’s presence, especially when he’s all you have left.”

 There are so many ways God was with me during the most painful part of my journey. Those first few years were excruciating. The pain was so intense any physical movement required an enormous amount of effort. Breathing became a chore. One afternoon I was driving home. I stopped at a stop sign next to a small country school where Devin had played a basketball game. As I sat there at the stop sign, I realized I wasn’t breathing. I wasn’t holding my breath. I had just stopped breathing. I was so scared to take that next breath, to start breathing again. Because I knew as I inhaled I would not only be breathing in air, but pain as well.

So much of my grieving was done in prayer. Initially I was afraid to sit and pray. I didn’t pray for weeks, maybe even months. Somehow I knew to sit and talk with God was going to unleash a torrent of pain and tears that I wouldn’t be able to control. But once I was able to pray, and that intense pain of grief washed over me, I found the easiest way to deal with it was in the presence of God. I would wander into the boy’s bedroom, kneel over Dawson’s bed to pray and end up curled in the fetal position on the floor crying out to God for help. Every time. For months and years. Even today this occasionally happens. And every time after my tears are exhausted and I can hardly breathe from the ugly cry that just happened, I feel better, lighter and ready to handle the next step.

In those desperate moments on the floor of my boy’s bedroom and in so many other ways I learned how God draws close to the broken hearted.

One afternoon I was sitting in my living room. I don’t remember anything about what was going on, or what I was doing. All I remember was sitting there on the ottoman, leaned over with my arms on my knees. I must have been talking with God. Suddenly this feeling started deep within and spread throughout my entire body. It was a feeling of warmth and peace. I wish I had words to describe what it felt like. It was amazing and I knew it was from God. For the first time in my life I truly understood what the phrase “a peace that surpasses all understanding” really means. In that moment I understood how Horatio Spafford could write words like “when sorrows like sea billows roll, it is well with my soul” only days after all his children were lost at sea. I never understood his song of peace in the midst of tragedy until that moment.

It’s interesting, when you turn to God in your deepest pain, he is there in ways you cannot even imagine. I would be standing in the balcony at church, singing worship songs with tears streaming down my cheeks. Singing songs of praise to God, while feeling the most intense emotional pain I’ve ever know, was such a spiritual experience for me. It was like he was pulling all the pain out of me, leaving comfort in its place. I have no words to describe what it was like, or how close God felt. All I can say is when you take your pain to God, he does not disappoint.

It wasn’t just through these intensely emotional experiences God provided comfort for me. It was through the people around me as well. When we left the hospital the social worker who’d been working with us pulled me aside. She said to me “You have the largest support system I’ve ever seen”. She saw only a fraction of the support that has surrounded me these past 5 ½ years.

Both of my parents come from large families. Growing up I loved having so many uncles, aunts and cousins. But I have never been so thankful to come from a large family as I have since the accident. My mom’s family descended upon us, flying in from all over the country. The chaos of my Greeley relatives was exactly what I needed. They held me up that first week. My dad’s family is a bit quieter, but their support as time has stretched on has sustained me too. I have an amazing family! My large extended family has been a built in support system.

In addition to my family, I have an online family of friends. Several years ago I joined an online photography club. We shared pictures, critiqued each other’s images and grew together as photographers and friends. We laughed and joked with each other. Even though we’d never met, we became family. The support I received from this group of online friends was so evident my family could see how close we were. Shortly after the accident a few members decided we needed to meet. A trip to Las Vegas was planned. Suddenly in the midst of my pain, I not only had something to look forward to, I had something to get excited about. For 3 days we bounced around the desert taking photos. We laughed, picked on each other and had fun. I had a break from the constant pain. For the first time since the accident I felt carefree and the trip was the highlight of my year. I firmly believe God brought this group of photographers into my life when he did, because he KNEW I was going to need them.

Then there was the support I received through friends on Facebook. Yes, social media can be a good thing! Friends from college, high school and even grade school offered me words of support. One afternoon I was having one of my more desperate “help me God” prayers. Crying on the floor of my boy’s room, all I could do was cry out “help me” over and over again. Later that day I received 3 messages from people, all from different parts of my life. Each message told me they’d been praying for me. I began to cherish every single “I’m praying for you” I received. Whenever someone would ask how they could help, I’d ask for prayer. Through various contacts there were people praying for me all around the world. Everyday I would hear of someone else, usually someone I didn’t know, who’d heard about the accident and was praying for me.

The church my family belonged to at the time showed us an amazing amount of support that first week. They supported us in many ways, but one thing has always stood out. Every night for a week at 6pm they had dinner for us at the church. So many members of my extended family came into town that my mom had worried how we would feed everyone. But the church had that all taken care of. In addition to feeding us, those nightly meals gave us an anchor in the storm of that first week.

Another church in town opened up their building to us for the memorial service. We were expecting so many people; our church was not big enough. Over 600 people came to the service. I’m still in awe of the number of people who came to mourn with us.

One of my favorite shows of support was organized by a lovely woman I hardly know. She organized a group of women to leave gifts on my doorstep from December 1st through January 22nd. This is the hardest time of the year for me. Dawson’s birthday, Christmas and the accident day all in close succession are followed by Devin’s birthday in February. This particular year, I felt spoiled and actually looked forward to coming home from work everyday. It made the holidays easier and this difficult time of year more bearable.

I don’t know why God graced me with such a wonderful support system. Especially when I’ve met so many grieving parents who are deserted by family and friends. But through this experience I feel like I’ve gotten a glimpse of what God intended the church to be, a place where people come together and support each other through the painful events in their lives.

I work in a community mental health clinic. The other day one of my clients mentioned that he had learned not to mention his mental illness in church. It broke my heart to hear that. The church should be a place for people who are hurting to find love, encouragement and support. But instead we are too busy living under the God is good, so life is good attitude to be real about our pain, or honestly listen to someone else. I sincerely believe if the Christian community would be more honest in our pain and struggles there would be less of it, because we would share the burden together instead of dealing with it alone. We are to help each other carry our burdens.

There is a scene at the end of the Lord of the Rings movies that I love. Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Mt. Doom so Frodo can destroy the ring of evil. No one but Frodo can carry the ring and at this point in the movie the weight of the ring is too much for him. Frodo collapses and cannot go on. Sam his trusted friend, in a climatic moment in the movie says to Frodo, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”. This is what the church should be and this is how I’ve felt these last 5 years. No one can ever carry or take away my pain, but I have been carried through the pain by the love and support of those God sent to comfort me.

One night, nearly 2 years after the accident, I was feeling very sorry for myself. I was working through a Beth Moore bible study on James. This particular evening the word “cherished” kept jumping off the workbook page. In my self-pity I was crying out to God about how much I just wanted to feel cherished. I started thinking about all people who’ve been my support. Then I heard God say to me “see all these people I’ve sent, this is how I’ve cherished you”. Let me tell you that was an experience. I cried for a full 20 minutes. I didn’t stop shaking for an hour! Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be COMFORTED.

Through all this I came to understand Jesus sacrifice on the cross in a whole new way. I grew up in the church. I’ve heard all the bible stories and I know all the songs. I can probably still remember the motions to the songs we sang in Sunday school when I was a kid. But in some ways I never fully understood the sacrifice God made. One evening it dawned on me, God knows what it’s like to lose a child. Worse, he knows what it’s like to watch his son be tortured and beaten, hung on a cross and die. Matthew 27 tells us about God’s reaction. Verse 45: “Now from the 6th hour there was darkness over all the land until the 9th hour.” The footnotes in my bible tell me that’s from noon to 3pm. Right in the middle of the day, and it was dark. If I could have turned the sky dark that day I would have. I’d probably have left the sky dark for weeks. I felt betrayed by the sun when spring came around and the weather started turning warm. Around 3pm Jesus breathed his last and this is what happened verse 51:“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom”. That’s a very familiar part of the story because it symbolizes the separation between us and God being removed and this is usually where we focus. But it goes on to say “And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” The first time I really read that after the accident, I read the actions of a Father who was grieving the death of his son. And I could so relate. My world shook to its core. I wanted to scream. If I could have caused an earthquake to outwardly express what was going on internally I would have. Suddenly it all made sense. There are not multiple paths to God, there is only one! And that path is paved with the blood of Jesus. Though intellectually I knew that before. Now living through child loss, it made sense to me in a way it never had before. I understand why God will reject people who reject his son. It’s not because God doesn’t love them, it’s because they reject his son. And his son DIED for them.

Part of being real with my pain isn’t just telling you about all the wonderful things God did for me. It’s also explaining what happened when I allowed my pain to take my focus off God.      The last 2 years or so, I have struggled with trusting God. I’ve been through several opportunities to trust God with my future these past couple years. Each time I failed miserly.

The crazy part of me decided it would be a good idea to go to graduate school and get my counseling degree only 2 years into my grief journey. When it came time to find an internship or do a case presentation that would determine if I could graduate I did not put my trust in God. Instead I looked toward the future and saw everything that could go wrong. After all, if God allowed the accident into my life, how could I be sure he would look out for me now?

I let anxiety into my life. I couldn’t sleep or function well. Things got worse as graduation loomed closer and I would have to leave the safety of school and find a job.

I started questioning God’s character. I questioned his motives, his intention and his caring. I would say things like “If I believe in the sovereignty of God then that means he knew the accident was going to happen and he did nothing to stop it. If he’s willing to let something that awful happen to me, then how can I trust he won’t let more bad stuff happen?” I would pull up stories from the Old Testament to show how “scary” God can be. I wanted answers. “How can I trust a God who allowed my children to die?” I wanted answers to this question not only for me but also for all the grieving mom’s who ask “How can a loving God take my child from me?” I asked so many people my questions. I was desperate for an answer. Sometimes I took my questions to God.

Sometimes I need to write my prayers out. I thought I’d share a few from last year with you.

       May 9, 2015

Lord, I am struggling to trust you. I want to fully and completely trust you. Yet I am afraid. I’m afraid of more pain and disappointment in my future. I’m afraid to trust because my life has already fallen apart once. I don’t want to go through that again. I’m afraid you will bring me more pain. I’m struggling to believe in your goodness.

I want to see your divine creativity play out in my life. I want to again be excited about what you have planned for my future. I want the peace that comes from fully trusting you. God please help me with my lack of trust.

       May 11, 2015

Lord, my heart is troubled and afraid. I am afraid you will not continue providing for me or that my future holds more intense pain. I’m afraid you have more painful lessons to teach me.

God please remove these fears and doubt from my heart. Replace them with your peace. Show me what I need to do to let go and fully trust you again.

       June 9, 2015

I’m beginning to see now that in allowing anxiety and fear into my life I abandoned your love for me. In my anxiety and fear the devil taught me to fear you! I have been afraid of you God. Afraid of what you can do in my life. In that fear I gave the devil a stronghold in my life. Lord I pray that you will drive all the anxiety and far from my life! Fill me instead with your perfect love.

    September 28, 2015

Am I confident in God? Not fully. I want to be. I know in my head that God loves us and will do anything for us. But there is a seed of doubt. Why? Because I know God does not always step in when we want him to. He doesn’t stop bad things from happening to us. Why? I don’t know. The bible tells us that God is sovereign and everything is under his control. How do you reconcile that to a God who loves you when something horrible happens in your life. Does that mean God wanted it to happen? Does that mean God allowed it to happen? Does that mean it was part of Gods will? Or is it just part of this broken world we live in? I want to have confidence in God! But I don’t know how to deal with the doubt in my mind. The doubt that says bad things happen and God doesn’t always step in. But then God didn’t’ step in and save his own son from a gruesome death. Because there was a bigger picture. The difference between what God knows about our life and what we know is huge. God can see the whole picture. He can see why I ‘ve had to endure the last 5 years alone. Why I don’t get to see my boys grow up. I wish I could see the bigger picture. Maybe that would make it easier to endure. Maybe it would make it easier to understand my purpose in life.

       November 27, 2015

Lord, I’m trying to trust in you. I want to trust in you because I know in my head that you care for me. But it’s hard, hard to believe in my heart when I think about the accident. If you care for me so much why did you let that happen? I’m scared my life will always be like this. Are you taking care of me? I want to believe you are. I want so badly to trust you and not carry these burdens. But I don’t know how. I don’t know what to do. How do I let go and trust you. My kids are gone and I am alone. I hate this. God please help me. Help me understand. Give me wisdom. I want to trust you with my whole heart. But it’s broken. Not just broken God, it’s shattered. I don’t know how to put the pieces back together.

And earlier this year . . . .

       March 11, 2016

Lord, give me wisdom to understand your role in the accident. Was it your will? Why didn’t you stop it? How do I trust you when you allowed something so devastating to happen to me? But did you allow it? Was it just part of living in a sinful world? How does your sovereignty play into all this? Lord, I just want to understand. If I’m not meant to understand then please replace my questioning with your peace.

Can you see the pattern? I’m afraid of what’s coming, I’m afraid of what’s coming. I took my eyes off God and looked instead to the future.

I started a devotional on Job last month. I was nearly in tears before I finished the introduction. The author made this statement: “The person of faith is one who like Job, knows what it is to be torn apart by the enormity of God”. Wow! That’s how I felt for over 2 years. Torn apart because my God is huge, he’s in control of all things, and he didn’t save me from this pain. How do you reconcile that?

In my years of questioning, and searching for an answer I came up with only one. You don’t. You don’t reconcile that God loves us and yet bad and painful things happen. I wish I could give you answers. I wish I could answer these questions myself.

There are many standard answers I could give. We live in an evil world. God gave us free will. Bad things happen. But none of these soothe the pain in my heart. None of them help me understand why God allowed this pain into my life. I don’t think there are answers that will satisfy my broken human heart. But then if I had answers I wouldn’t need faith.

You see, I don’t think we are meant to get the answers to these kinds of questions. If we had the answers it wouldn’t be faith. Knowledge yes, but not faith. It’s easy to trust things we know and understand. It requires no effort, no faith. Faith is trusting God in spite of the questions and in spite of the doubts. I think God wants us to lean on him even in the uncertainty and doubt. That is true faith.

Recently I’ve begun to realize all my questions were more about me than about God. When I took my eyes off God and looked toward the future, all I saw was fear. I was afraid of more pain and more suffering. When I allowed anxiety into my life instead of trusting God, I allowed a spirit of fear to gain a stronghold over me. In that anxiety and fear I quit spending time with God. Which only made the anxiety and far worse.

I also realized my questions were about my pride. What has happened in my life isn’t fair and I wanted answers. I deserved answers. At one point I even told God he owed me an amazing future. I mean really, how prideful can you be to tell God he OWEs you something. But since I didn’t trust God, I tried taking control of my life so I didn’t have to struggle anymore. In reality my struggle was made worse because I wasn’t willing to let go of my control. There’s a level of humility required to say to God “I trust you no matter what”. You have to be willing to put yourself aside and give God control. That requires submission to his will.

As a result of all my questioning I would beat myself up. I felt like such a horrible person. After all the wonderful things he did for me after the accident, here I was questioning his goodness and love. But I now know, the questioning isn’t wrong it’s human. In the multitude of people I talked to there was one pastor I spoke with who tied my questioning to my grief process. It had not occurred to me that my questions were coming from grief. In that one statement she helped me normalize what I was going through. It’s normal to ask these deep and confusing questions. It’s part of growing and maturing in our faith. It’s part of dealing with the hurt and pain in life. It doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on God or that I have a lack of faith. Like the author in my Job study says, “such feelings are not incompatible with faith”.

For the past 2-3 years I have been trying to be strong on my own. I’ve focused on the future and what could go wrong. I’ve been trying to control the outcome so I don’t have to experience more pain. This has led me to more anxiety and depression than I have ever known. My life has been more difficult and less peaceful as a result. Grief and child loss are hard enough on their own. But I compounded it by walking away from the peace God gave me.

Even in my doubt and questioning, everything God has done to comfort me is still there. My support system hasn’t deserted me after all these years. God is still providing for me. And he’s still there waiting for me to come back and rest in him. Just a few days ago I was finally able to let go of all my questions. I still don’t have answers. But I have my peace back, and that is far better than any answer. My most recent prayer has been: I would rather have the peace that comes from trusting you than answers to my anxiety fear filled questions.

I was recently reminded why that afternoon, when God filled me with his peace, I understood how Horatio Spafford could write the words “It is Well, With my Soul”. It was because his peace came from knowing he would spend eternity with God. The feeling of peace, that afternoon, was more than just God comforting me. The peace came in knowing that I belong to God. That my eternal future is set. That was not something I was sure of before the accident. Not because I hadn’t given my life over to God, but because I didn’t believe God loved me back. But in those first few years after the accident I felt God presence in such a strong and comforting way, I knew without a doubt he loved me and I would spend eternity with him.

Our hope is in heaven. Peace comes from knowing this hope will be realized.

Our lives are bigger than here and now. Bigger than the problems we face today, tomorrow or in the next 10 years. When I focus on the future all I see is what can go wrong. Like Peter walking on the water and taking his eyes off Jesus and only seeing the waves that can sweep him away. When I focus on God I have peace, because even though life is filled with struggle and pain, I know God loves me and I will spend eternity with him. That is where the true comfort is.

I’ve had so many people tell me how strong I am. But I’m not. I cry, I despair, I question, I get bitter and angry. Left to my own devices I would not be standing here today. It’s God who gives me strength. It is through his promises for my future, those he sent to support and comfort me and his hope that I will one day see my boys again I have strength.

How I Survived Child Loss: Part 3 – Faith

God gives us his strength in our weakness, so “that everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and not our own”. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7

“You are so strong.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this statement over the past 6 years. While a part of me loves to hear it and part of me feels strong, I know I could not have done any of this on my own. The strength I have does not come from me; it comes from within me, from God living in me.

A few months ago I watched a video with my favorite radio show host. He was interviewing a Christian musician. I don’t remember most of the interview, but I the one thing I do remember really hit home. He said, in the wake of a personal trauma, his grief over the situation, kept crashing up against something solid inside him – his faith in God. When I heard that, I knew exactly what he meant. I’d felt the same thing in my own life.

Every time the intense pain of grief washed over me, I turned to God. I’d cry out “help me”. They were the only words I could utter. I’d ugly cry in God’s presence because I couldn’t do it alone. Through this process a strange thing happened, I realized when my grief was at its strongest I felt closer to God than at any other point in my life.

When I turned to God in the middle of my pain, he was there for me. Every. Single. Time. Sometimes I could hear him talk to me. Others I just knew he was there.

One afternoon, I was on the floor of my boy’s bedroom crying out to God my desperate “help me” plea. I was feeling very alone that particular day. Later that afternoon I received messages from 3 different people who didn’t know each other but knew me. Each message was a variation of “I’m thinking of you and praying for you”. I was overwhelmed and in that moment I knew God had heard my prayer of tears and was letting me know he was with me.

Through this journey I have learned when you reach into your deepest pain, you’ll find God there holding you.

Sunday mornings became a time of meeting God on a whole new level. I would go to church and hide in the balcony. I would sing the worship songs and cry through the whole thing. One of the most spiritual experiences in my life was praising God while in the greatest emotional pain I’d ever known. I wish I could accurately describe what it was like. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to God. I could almost see him. I felt like he was reaching down and gently pulling my pain to himself. Pain, relief, praise and comfort it was such an interesting mix of emotions. But it gave me the strength I needed to face the day.

There are so many ways God has given me strength to travel this journey. My first thoughts after the accident were of God (you can read about it here). He provided me an amazing support system that has prayed for me and carried me through (read here). He’s been there in my pain and held me when I cried. All my tears of grief have been spent in God’s presence.

I don’t know how people travel through this cruel world without God. And I don’t know how people get through child loss without Him to lean on. I would not be here today, if not for the hope and strength God has given me. I could not have made it this far without God. Left to my own devices I would have curled up in a ball and stayed there. The strength God has given me is the only thing that has kept me going. I could not have done this alone.


How I Survived Child Loss: Part 2 – Support System

“You have the largest support system I’ve ever seen.”

The hospital social worker said this to me as we left the hospital the day after the accident. I still remember the look on her face, a mixture of disbelief and pride. Friends, family and church members had been flowing in and out of the hospital for the last 2 days.

Before we even arrived at the hospital that horrible Saturday afternoon, members of our church had started to fill the ER waiting room. By the time we arrived, my parents and I had to be ushered past the waiting room through staff only doors so those who’d come to support us wouldn’t overwhelm us. Friends had completely filled the ER waiting area. Most were stopped there and not allowed on the ICU floor where we were taken. I never ventured into the waiting area to see the crowd. I was barely holding it together as it was, I couldn’t emotionally handle that. Though I never saw them, I appreciated their presence.

Many other friends, who came to support us, came in through a different hospital entrance. They were able to make it to the ICU floor where my family and I waited for news of my husband. I can still remember looking in the waiting room and seeing them, sitting and talking to each other. I felt like I should go over there and join their conversation, but I just couldn’t. I stayed close to my family because I could not handle any conversation. I couldn’t talk to them, but I was so glad they were there.

The group of friends who came to the hospital shifted throughout the day. Some came and went, others stayed for hours; new ones arrived as word of the accident spread. I appreciated their presence and the fact they didn’t intrude on my need for distance. The social worker who spent time with us during our 36 hours in the hospital watched the ever-shifting crowd of people who’d come to support us. Apparently, they made an impression on her prompting the comment as we prepared to leave the hospital that Sunday afternoon.

Years later I understand why she was so impressed. I could not have made it this far without my support system.

Going to graduate school to become a counselor I learned one of the most important factors for success in therapy is the individual’s support system. It’s not the relationship with the counselor or the therapeutic techniques used, it is the support system that makes the most difference.

I can only imagine the hospital social worker saw the size of our support and knew we would be able to travel the hard road ahead.

In truth, she saw only a fraction of those who’ve shown up to support me on my journey of grief.

Through social media, my online photography club, and my rather large extended family I have been carried through my grief. I haven’t had to do any of this alone.

One night while working my new, I’m no longer a stay-at-home mom, job I had a meltdown. It was one of those bad grief days that I couldn’t contain. I was stuck in a call center customer service job and all I wanted was to go home and cry. But I had to keep answering phone calls. I made some big mistakes that night because I couldn’t focus. I was struggling to stay together so I could finish my shift.

I posted on Facebook how bad my night was going. I watched the slowly moving clock, willing it to move faster so I could go home and break down properly. Finally, the time came for me log out of my computer and leave work. I walked out of the building and started heading to my car, only to discover my parents had come to pick me up from work.

They had seen my Facebook post and had seen beyond the vague words and knew I was doing worse than I’d let on. My mom said to me “We weren’t sure if this would be ok”. It was a little weird, yes, but it was such an awesome thing for them to do. I curled up in the passenger seat of my van and cried as my mom drove me home, with dad following behind us.

This is just one of the small ways my parents have supported me.

The second Christmas after the accident, I wanted to hide away from reality. I couldn’t afford to go on vacation like I had the year before. So I talked my family into hiding out in the mountains with me. My parents found a rental house big enough for us, along with my sister and her family. We spent 3 days hiding from the world. It was peaceful and fun. (You can read about it here.)

I realized my sister and her family had given up all their holiday traditions to hide away with me. I felt bad about taking them away from their traditions until I mentioned it to my sister, she replied, “It’s the only thing you’ve asked us to do”. After all these years I still tear up at the selfless support.

My extended family has been another layer of support. Both of my parents come from large families. Growing up I loved having so many uncles, aunts, and cousins. But I have never been so thankful to come from a large family as I have since the accident. As news of the accident spread my mom’s family descended upon us, flying in from all over the country. The chaos of the Greeley side of my family was exactly what I needed. They held me together that first week. My dad’s family is more quite, but their support as time has stretched on has sustained me too. I have such an amazing family.

I could also go on about all the different ways my friends have shown me support. But this post is getting long. You can read about it (here, here and here).

I don’t know why God has blessed me with such a wonderful support system. So many grieving parents are on this awful journey alone. I’ve heard horrible stories of the things other bereaved parents have had to endure from family, friends and even their church. It breaks my heart when I see how little support some people have.

At the Compassionate Friends support group I attend, we have a saying “Your address book changes after the loss of a child”. It’s so true. People you thought would always be there for you disappear and others surprise you by becoming new friends. Even with my support system, I’ve had my address book change. People I thought were good friends are gone. And others I’ve had minimal contact with over the years became a larger part of my support.

I would not have been able to walk this path alone. I need every single person who has supported me in any way they can. Each one of them has carried me on this journey.

We are not meant to carry the burden of our pain alone. It’s too heavy and too hard. We need people to love us, support us and help carry us through.

This concept is so beautifully demonstrated at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Mt. Doom so Frodo can destroy the ring of evil. No one but Frodo can carry the ring and at this point in the journey, the weight of the ring is too much for him. Frodo collapses and cannot go on. Sam, his trusted friend, in a climatic moment says to Frodo, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”. This is such a great demonstration of how we are to support one another. No one can ever carry or take away my pain, but I have been carried through the pain by the love and support of those God sent to comfort me.

If you don’t have support in your grief journey look for a local chapter of Compassionate Friends or Grief Share.

How I Survived Child Loss: Part 1 – Facing It

I will admit this title is misleading. There is no “survived” in child loss, there is only enduring it. But survived sounds more socially acceptable, doesn’t it?

Early on I made a decision to let the grief in. I’m generally a pretty emotionally controlled person, more of a thinker than a feeler if you will. Somehow I knew this journey would require me to feel the pain. I was terrified of the road that now stood in front of me.

The fear started after my extended family left. The chaos of my mom’s side of the family had kept me going that first week. As soon as the last one left for the airport, I felt empty. Then is settled on me . . . Fear. I looked at my future and all I saw was a long, dark road filled with pain. I was scared of the coming days because I knew they would be filled with the most intense and painful feelings I have ever felt. I curled up on my mom’s couch and cried. I was too exhausted to go home, too scared to be completely alone, so I spent the night at my parent’s house. How was I supposed to move forward?

I knew a mom who’d lost her son 5 years prior. From the way she talked, it seemed like it had just happened. She was stuck in her grief, and I did not want that to be me. I didn’t want to have to start over 5 years from now because I didn’t deal with it first. Somehow I knew the only way through this would be to let the pain in. So I decided to face the pain and grief head on.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done . . . .

When the searing pain would hit, instead of pushing it down, I would let it wash over me. I’d let the tears fall until there were no more.

I went deep into my grief, I allowed myself to feel the crushing pain. I would wander into the boy’s room and sit on their beds. I would go through their things, trying to connect with them. The sadness would start first, and then the full impact of the consuming pain would hit me and flood through me. I couldn’t breathe. I’d collapse on the floor in paralyzing tears. It hurt so bad, my legs would not support my weight. I cried out to God asking, “Why couldn’t I keep them?” or just pleading, “help me”.

It hurt. It was hard.

I’ve had “meltdowns” in the bathroom at work and other public places. I’ve cried so hard I can’t see while driving. I’ve cried at church, in museums, while watching movies, and my favorite place the privacy of my bedroom.

Grief comes is waves. Sometimes the waves completely overwhelm you and others are smaller, more tolerable. I rode the waves of grief today, so tomorrow the wave would be smaller. Sometimes there is no warning, it just hits you like a sneaker wave at the beach. The kind of wave that’s stronger than you realize and rips your feet out from under you. Other times you can see the waves coming and you dread the moment they hit. Those times it’s really tempting to run and hide from the coming wave.

It was late July, a few years ago, when I learned how trying to hold your grief in will backfire.

I was having a bad day. The kind of day where the grief sneaks up on you, and before you know it you are in tears. I’d already cried through much of the church service while struggling to maintain control because I was in a public place. I tried, really hard to keep myself under control.

It was my sister’s birthday and I didn’t want to make the day about me.

 After the service, driving to my parent’s house, I allowed myself a few tears. The drive to mom and dad’s was not long enough. I needed more time to let my grief out. I was expected to be there, so I sucked in my pain and put on the best happy face I could muster.

It took so much of my energy to hold myself together, I couldn’t fake the happy attitude I needed to keep everyone from knowing I was having a bad day. There were questions I tried to deflect but wasn’t able to do so successfully. Thankfully they quit asking what was wrong. I was doing fairly well. It was obvious I wasn’t in a good mood, but at least I wasn’t crying.

After the birthday lunch and presents we all gathered in the family room. My sister said something that started me laughing. I was laughing so hard, really harder than was necessary for the comment. I quickly lost control. The dam burst and next thing I knew my control crumbled, I was in tears. I flew to the bathroom so I could break down in private. I locked the door behind me and my legs gave out. I sunk to my knees and cried. The tears were falling from my eyes to the floor. It’s hard to sob without making noise, but I didn’t want people at the door asking if I was ok.

After the crying subsided, I still wasn’t ready to face anyone. I stayed in the bathroom for a while and played a game on my phone until my mom started texting me. After a couple more minutes I used a cold washcloth to try and reduce the effects crying had on my face. Once I felt I would be able to maintain control and deal with any looks or questions from my family, I left the bathroom.

I tried so hard to push my grief aside, to be ok for my sister. I ended up making everything worse. That day I needed to give myself the time and space I needed to grieve. But I denied it and it pushed it’s way forward anyway.

Grief will always push its way out.

Grief is exhausting. But it’s more exhausting to not let it out. Trying to constantly maintain control takes and exorbitant amount of effort. Grief is hard, but it’s harder not to grieve.

So I learned to let it out, scream, cry, do whatever I needed to do to release that emotion. For me its crying fits. I’d cry so hard I couldn’t breathe. I’d try to stop crying just so I could breathe. I’d gasp for air only to start crying all over again.

It sucks, it’s hard and it hurts. Oh boy, does it hurt! But when the crying is over, the pain has subsided. I feel empty, poured out in tears. But with the emptiness comes a lightness I didn’t feel before. The weight of the grief has lifted temporarily and I can go on. Until the cycle repeats itself, I am free.

Because I faced my pain when I did, today I can breathe. The waves are smaller and come less frequently. Sitting here 6 years later, I know I did the hardest work of processing my grief early on. I know that’s why I can function and teach others about grief.

At work, I help run a grief group. I talk to them about how they have to face their grief and let the pain in because that is the only way through this.

In the group, we talk about how grief will always come out. It doesn’t matter how much you hide or run from it, grief will not be denied. If you don’t face it, you only make the process harder. Anxiety, physical issues, chronic pain, depression can all come from unprocessed grief. When grief is not dealt with it will come out in the most inconvenient and uncontrollable ways. The only way to have any amount of control with grief is to face it, feel it and ride the waves.

I’m here because I let the pain in.

I’m enduring. I’m surviving.

Are you having trouble letting the pain in? Are you running or hiding from grief? Feel free to comment, send me an email or message me on Facebook. Do you know someone who is grieving and could be helped by this post? Feel free to share.



An Open Letter to Newly Bereaved Parents


If you are reading this because you have lost a child, I am so very sorry. I know the pain you feel, because I have felt it too. I know the depth of suffering that comes from losing a child. I wish no one had to experience this, but sadly there are too many of us.

My purpose in writing this letter is to outline a few of the things I have learned in my grief. Maybe in doing so, your journey will seem a little less scary. It’s so easy to feel alone and grief is so unscripted you may think you are going crazy. I want you to know you are not alone and what you are experiencing is normal, for the circumstances you find yourself in.

There is No Order

Shortly after losing my 2 boys in a car accident someone said something to me that I have always appreciated. I have no idea who it was, or exactly the words they used, but their comment helped me navigate that first year. This person told me there are no stages to grief. You may have heard about the “Stages of Grief” but, after 6 years, I am here to tell you there is no such thing. Stages imply order. Once you complete the first stage you move onto the next and so on. As you get through all the steps, viola, you are done grieving. Oh, how I wish it were that easy!

Grief is unpredictable and it can take you by surprise. It’s more like a rollercoaster where you can’t see the dips and turns. I’ve also described grief like ocean waves that sneak up on you when you’re not ready. You may take weeks to go through the different emotions, or you my go through them all in a 30 second whirlwind. Grief cycles and turns so much you may feel like you are going crazy.

You Are Not Going Crazy

I believe child loss is the most agonizing emotional pain there is. Our bodies simply don’t know how to handle the intensity. One minute you may be fine and even able to smile. The next you collapse into tears. Or maybe you are laughing at something and your laughter dissolves into sobs. The smallest or strangest things can set off the tears. I’ve been triggered by an aisle full of kitchen mixers at the store, an innocuous comment by a friend and even a Taylor Swift song (the reason behind this one seems so silly).

As exhausting as the mood swings are, they are normal. I’ve melted down in the grocery store, the bathroom at work, my car, in front of family, and even in the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and other equally embarrassing places. Sometimes your emotions will make sense and be easier to control. Other times the power of your grief will be so overwhelming you will break down despite your best intentions. Both are ok. Both are good. It’s normal you are not crazy.

The Intensity of the Pain will subside

I was astonished at the intensity of the emotional pain I was in. It was so painful I could feel it physically. My heart hurt, I couldn’t breathe, and any movement I made took an enormous amount of effort.

Writing this letter 6 years later, the pain is now a dull sadness. Every now and then the intensity returns, but it’s not an everyday occurrence anymore. Thankfully so, I’m not sure I could have survived 6 years of that kind of intensity. I’m not sure when it started to subside, but it did. It was a slow and gradual process over the course of time.

You’ve probably heard the expression “Time heals all wounds”. (I hope no one has said this to you in the face of your loss). I disagree with this statement. I think there are some wounds that the passage of time can heal, but not all. Time itself doesn’t heal anything just by continuing to march forward. All time really does is put distance between us, and the day of our loss. It’s what we do with that time that determines if we “heal” or remain stuck.

The only way to “heal” from grief is to go through it. I know it hurts and I know it’s hard, but you have to feel it. You have to let it in, because that is the only way through. It may seem easier to run from or hide from your grief. But remember this, GRIEF WILL NOT BE DENIED. It will always come out. The more you run from it, the more likely it will come out in a way you have no control over. Facing your grief head on is the hardest and easiest way through this journey.

There is Hope

I still remember the first Compassionate Friends meting I went to. (CF is a national support group for bereaved parents/siblings/and grandparents.) It was only a few weeks after the accident and I couldn’t imagine life without the intense pain that had become my constant companion. The leader of the group was 10 years into her child loss journey. I remember listening to her talk and realizing there was hope. She was able to function and live a life. I listened to her story and knew I wouldn’t always be in this place of powerful pain. Attending the local Compassionate Friends chapters has helped me in many ways. I realize I’m not alone on this journey. And in seeing others farther along in their journey, I knew what to expect as the weeks, months and years marched past. I knew there was hope.

Hope can also come from faith. I don’t know what your spiritual beliefs are and I know in the face of losing a child talk about God can feel trite. I hope you will continue reading what I have to say. I’m not going to tell you things like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” or “God needed another angel”. (Please excuse me while I throw up over those statements). No, what I want you to know is God is here for you, if you’ll let him in. He can offer you comfort and peace. I know there are a lot of hard questions about God and painful circumstances like ours. But that is a conversation for another day.

I found when the pain hurt the most and the tears wouldn’t stop, God was there for me when I cried out for help. He gave me peace and surrounded me with support. He makes this burden we carry lighter. I know he will do the same for you; all you have to do is ask.

There is so much more I want to say, but I’ve already written more than I planned. If you have any questions or would like prayer, feel free to comment, send me an email or message me on Facebook.

I am so sorry you’ve joined this awful club, but know you are not alone.

How a 100 Year Old Tragedy Still Affects My Family

The first week of July I went to a family reunion in the Midwest. I spent a peaceful week on my uncle’s farm reconnecting with uncles, aunts and cousins. One of our activities was to visit several cemeteries. I know this sounds odd, many of us in the younger generation thought it was. But it was a way for Dad and his 5 brothers to pass on family history. While I know most of the family stories, I did learn some new things.

There is one family story I have heard about since I was a little girl. I’ve always been interested in it, but this time the story came alive for me in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s the story of the train accident.

In 1919 my Great-Grandpa George piled his wife and several of their children into their car to drive the preacher home. On the way a train going backwards through the train crossing struck the car. My Great-Grandmother Lily, who was pregnant at the time, and the 3 youngest girls were killed. My 4-year-old Grandpa spent a month in the hospital.

The car filled with George's family
The car filled with George’s family
My Grandpa is second from the left. The 3 younger girls were killed in the accident
My Grandpa is second from the left. The 3 younger girls were killed in the accident

The newspaper article on the accident is surprisingly graphic. It included gruesome detail about how Lily and the youngest child died. Though I’ve known this story for most of my life, reading the article was shocking.

Yet there are things not included in the article that have become part of my family history. I know that after the accident George went to his mother and said, “I killed my family”. The guilt he must have felt having been the one driving the car. My grandpa came home from the hospital and went through the house looking for his mom. No one told him she had died. My grandpa grew up without a mother and when he married my grandma he said, “Now I have a mother”. (I recently learned my grandma found this romantic). My grandma had to teach my grandpa how to celebrate birthdays and holidays, because this was not something George did with his surviving children.

I always thought it was sad George never celebrated his children’s birthdays or holidays. I will admit on some level I judged him for it. But now I understand. Birthdays and holidays are so hard without my boys. It’s easier to respond to those days the way George did, pretending they don’t exist. I have no desire to celebrate the holidays. My birthday is hard without my boys. Their birthdays are even harder. While there are a few holidays I tolerate, most I’d just rather ignore. In this I feel a kinship with my great-grandfather.

Like George I know the anguish of losing more than 1 child in a tragic accident. I understand the depression and fear he must have felt from that day forward. And thought I don’t carry the guilt he must have felt, I can imagine it compounded his feelings of grief.

During the family reunion last month we stopped by the accident site. The family gathered around my Uncle Robert, the oldest of my dad’s brothers, as he again told the familiar story. We wandered around the area trying to find evidence of the train tracks long since removed.

Train Accident

My cousin was able to identify the train bed and we were able to see where the road had been repaired to accommodate the missing tracks. As I stood on the ground where the train tracks used to be, and faced the direction the train had been traveling, I could see my family wandering on the road where the impact happened. And it struck me, nearly 100 years later and we are still talking about this accident. I was filled with awe and overwhelmed by the meaning of what I was witnessing. Tragedy like this doesn’t just effect those involved, it effects future generations.

After my uncle recounted the story, my Uncle Chuck stated to my cousins and I “If you think your grandpa was odd, or your dad’s are odd, this accident is why”. This tragedy shaped my grandpa, who he was and how he lived his life. It affected my grandpa’s personality and how he raised his boys. My dad and his brothers were raised by a father who’d suffered trauma and loss at a very young age. Trauma shaped their lives. My cousins and I were raised by fathers who learned how to deal with life through the lens of trauma.

Standing on that quite Midwest road I couldn’t help but wonder if George would have liked knowing we are still talking about him and those lost in the accident. Three and four generations later and we still remember, as a fellow grieving parent, I know George would have liked that. Though I now understand my Great-Grandpa George in a way only another grieving parent could, he had something I don’t . . . surviving children. He has descendants who 100 years later still remember him and those he lost. I have no surviving children. I will never be a grandmother or great-grandmother. I can’t help but wonder, who will be at my children’s accident site to remember them 100 years from now.

The Weight of Grief

I sat in bible study struggling to stop the tears. Despite my best efforts they still flowed.

I still have no idea what hit me so hard. I just know it was more confirmation of what I’ve been learning the past few weeks. I’m learning exactly why this journey of grief is forever.

Last month I wrote about my experience at a trauma workshop. When I first volunteered, I told the leader I didn’t think I’d be a good candidate because I’ve been doing so much better lately. However, as soon as I started filling out the mood log, the emotions appeared. Certain words triggered immediate tears. I began to realize no matter how well I’m doing or how much the intense pain has lessened, it’s always there, just beneath the surface. Waiting.

I never know when it will hit or what will trigger it, but it’s always there. Always.

A few weeks ago, I posted a photo I found in one of my grief pages. Within hours it had been viewed and shared more than anything else I’ve ever put on FB. The image was a sculpture of a man kneeling, bent over. He was made out of rocks. The image describes what grief feels like in one profound visual. I’ve often described it as feeling like I’m made out of cement. Rocks works too.

As I looked at that picture, it occurred to me that I still feel that way. I’ve just learned to carry the weight.

That weight is why my energy level is lower than it was before the accident. That’s why everything sits just below the surface. To survive, I’ve learned to carry the pain and keep it at bay most days, but it requires a tremendous amount of energy. Some days it leaks out, like it did in bible study.

I’m slowly understanding why everyone says this is a forever journey. The pain. The weight of grief. It never goes away. It is simply too heavy.

The Pain.

7 Things NOT to Say to A Grieving Parent

Kindly callers hurt her, too, with the well-meant platitudes with which they strove to cover the nakedness of bereavement. – Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery

I first fell in love with Anne from Anne of Green Gables in 1989 when my family moved from Minnesota to Oregon. I was 14 years old and anticipating the move. The night before we left, my sisters and I stayed at my best friends house where we watched the Anne of Green Gables movies for the first time. I fell in love with Anne’s spunk and never ending chatter. However we were left with a cliffhanger. Gilbert was sick and dying but we couldn’t finish the end of the movie. I had to know what happened, so I read the books.

It’s interesting what you remember and don’t remember. After all these years all I remembered of Anne’s adult years was that Gilbert was able to get her dream house complete with a stream running through the yard. So imagine my surprise as I was reading through the books again to discover that Anne’s first child was stillborn. In the world created by L.M. Montgomery everything seemed happy and serene. Life was simple and pleasant. Sure the characters went through troubles, but nothing so terrible as child loss.

What Not to Say to Grieving Parents

It’s strange, but I found some measure of comfort in knowing that even in L.M. Montgomery’s day, people did not know how to handle grief. When people don’t know what to do or say, the platitudes they end up offering hurt so much more than they realize.

People sometimes think if they say the “right” thing they can help lessen or take away the pain. But in reality there are no words that can “cover the nakedness of bereavement”.

After the accident that claimed the lives of my only 2 children (you can read about it here), I heard my fair share of “well-meant platitudes”. Though I understood people were trying to help, the following words hurt and minimized my grief.

1) They’re in a better place

A kind older lady said this to me at the reception following the memorial service. I still remember how this statement was an emotional punch to the gut that had me physically take a step back. This statement completely misses the point of grief. It doesn’t matter where my children are. They are NOT with ME and I miss them. As long as they are gone I will be grieving.

2) How can I help? Let me know if I can do anything?

I know people say this out of a desire to be helpful, but really isn’t. My entire world had just imploded. I could barely breath. Getting dressed was an accomplishment of epic proportions. If that’s all I managed in a day, things were going good. I didn’t have a clue what I needed. And if I did know what I needed, I most likely didn’t care. Asking the bereaved person how you can help generates pressure for them to think about and give you ideas. If you truly want to help, here is a list of things others did for me that I found helpful and deeply appreciated.

3) Call me if you need to talk

 I had perfect strangers giving me their phone numbers. People I barely knew offering to listen. I even had someone set up a meeting for me to speak with a pastor I didn’t know, just because he too had lost a child. Again, I know people just wanted to help, but this wasn’t helpful. And in some cases it just made me mad.

Grief is an intense and intimate emotion. I wasn’t about to share my grief with strangers or acquaintances. I couldn’t share the intensity of what I was feeling with people I had no relationship with. I would share my grief with my family; friends and those I already had an established relationship with. I did not have the energy to build new relationships.

I would talk with the people who didn’t have to offer to be there for me, because I already knew they were.

4) I know what you are going through because my ________________________ died.

With this statement people are trying to find a way to connect to my grief. I get that. But there is nothing like the loss of a child. NOTHING. Our children represent the future. As parents we have dreams for our children as they grow. We worry over them, take care of them and guide them. Children are supposed to survive their parents. When a child dies this natural order is broken.

Child loss is not the same thing as losing your parent, step-parent, uncle or dog. I once heard that my Grandpa had said he’d lost his parents, a wife and a child and by far the worst was losing a child.

So PLEASE unless you have lost a child, never tell grieving parents you know how they feel.

5) You can have more children.

Shortly after the accident, I actually had someone tell me they were praying I would have another baby by the end of the year.

This statement implies that my children can be replaced. No child can ever be replaced. Each one has a unique personality and purpose in life. Whether or not more children are possible, my children are gone. And as long as they are gone, my grief will exist.

Child Loss has no end to grief.

6) This is a good time to reinvent yourself. (Or any version of “Its time to move on”)

Most of the time when people say things that are hurtful, I know they are trying to help and I let it go. But this statement was the one time I let the person know what I thought of what they had to say. I had seen the damage this kind of statement made in the lives of those around me.

People who are grieving a traumatic loss are not in a place to make major life decisions. The best advice I think I’d ever heard after dealing with a huge loss was “Don’t make any major life changes for a year”. It took me 2 years to voluntarily make any changes to my life. But when I did I knew it was the right time.

The problem with trying to make major life decisions or changes right after a traumatic loss is that we are still in shock. It takes a lot longer than people realize for this shock to wear off. It doesn’t go away after a few weeks, or even months. It can take a year or more. It took me longer because I went through a series of other losses after losing the boys. As one of my professors in college stated, “Loss begets more loss”.

Our society is in such a hurry with grief. But grief cannot be rushed. After experiencing a loss, individuals need to take the time to process that grief. It’s not a time to work on breaking bad habits, trying to start a new habit or a time to reinvent yourself. It’s a time to just breathe, cry, and adjust to a life without the loved one who was lost. And that takes time. A lot of time.

7) God won’t give you anymore than you can handle.

This statement. Sigh. I have a physical reaction to this statement every single time I hear it. I cannot smile at the well-meaning people who say it and pretend it’s ok, because I know they mean well. I have to say something, because this statement is simply not true. Nowhere in the Bible does God say “I won’t give you more than you can handle”. But God does PROMISE to be there for us in ALL THINGS.

I think this one needs a blog post all its own.

The next time you encounter someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one and you feel like you need to say something a simple “I’m so sorry” or “I’m sorry for your loss” is sufficient. It may feel inadequate, but it’s the kindest thing you can say.

7 Things NOT to Say to A Grieving Parent

Grief Lessons From a Kid Movie

A new kids movie came out a few weeks ago. As a rule I avoid kid movies, especially if I think it’s something my boys would have liked. But the new Disney/Pixar movie “Inside Out” peaked my interest, especially as a newly minted counselor. A kid movie that explores the emotions of our lives, I had to go see it.

It was a fantastic movie. My little counselor heart was excited about all the good lessons on emotion in this movie. There is so much I can pull out of the movie to help clients work through different things. But for this blog post I will try to stick to what the movie can teach us about grief.

WARNING: If you haven’t see the move and are planning to . . . . the rest of the blog post has spoilers.

The basic premise of the movie follows the story of Riley and her parent’s decision to move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. The story is told through the characters that represent Riley’s different emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness. The emotion characters guide Riley through life from their Headquarters in her brain.

Up to the point where the movie starts Joy has been the dominant emotion in Riley’s life. But after the move to San Francisco Sadness, though she tries not to, begins taking over. Joy, instead of allowing Riley to feel sad over the move, tries to stop Sadness any way she can. At one point Joy relegates Sadness to a small section of Headquarters and tells her to “stay put”. Sadness was trying to express the grief Riley felt over leaving her life behind. But Joy wouldn’t allow it. Things eventually escalate and both Joy and Sadness get sucked out of Headquarters. Leaving Anger in charge.

Joy was so busy trying to stop Sadness they both ended up being “suppressed”. Generally when you suppress one emotion you suppress them all, even the good ones. When emotions are suppressed often all that’s left on the surface is anger.

As Joy and Sadness try to make their way back to Headquarters they run into Riley’s imaginary friend from childhood, Bing Bong. During one of their adventures Bing Bong loses his rocket wagon – the last tie he had to his life with Riley. Bing Bong sits down and starts to grieve the loss of the wagon. But Joy, who can’t allow any sadness, tries to “happy” him out of his grief.

This is so much like society. Everything has to be happy and good. After a certain amount of time others no longer tolerate grief. “Get on with your life”, “It’s time to move on”, “So and so would want you to be happy” become common phrases grieving people hear. But you cannot “happy” your way out of grief.

In the movie Sadness simply sat down next to Bing Bong and listened. As she sat with him, she validated his feelings and his right to feel sad. She talked about what he lost, why it was important and allowed him to cry. Only then did Bing Bong begin to feel better.

Sadness and grief must be felt and expressed. That’s how healing happens. This process cannot be rushed.

Through other events on their journey back to Headquarters Joy begins to understand the role Sadness plays in Riley’s life. Joy learns that Sadness is needed. For true joy to exist we need to feel the sadness in our lives. Because, only when we acknowledge our sadness and work through it can we experience joy.

Grief needs to be felt for healing to begin

By the end of the movie they make it back to Headquarters. Joy leads Sadness to the control board and allows her be in charge. For the first time since the move Riley fully feels the sadness she’s been fighting against. She finally talks to her parents and expresses how much she misses Minnesota. After also expressing their sadness over what they left behind, Riley’s parents pull her into a hug. Back in Headquarters Sadness reaches over and pulls Joy’s hand down to the controls where they both move the lever. It is at this moment in the movie Riley feels both Joy and Sadness at the same time. I cried.

One of the most surprising things I learned in my grief is that you can feel 2 opposite emotions at the same time. I still vividly remember the first time it happened to me. I was at the beach with my sister, her family and several friends. We were having a great time. But while I was happy and having fun, I was also at the same time sad and grieving. It was so weird to feel happy and sad at the same time.

I have felt this strange mix of emotions in my life many times since the accident. One of the things I learned early in my grief is that I can feel the depth of my grief and at the same time be happy. Or I can be having an amazing time with friends and its tinged with the sadness of grief. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling to be able to feel both grief and joy at the same time. It would not have been possible if I had ignored my grief. For it is only in allowing sadness to wash over us that we can eventually feel true Joy.

And for completely unrelated giggles I’d like to leave you with my favorite part of the movie. As Joy and Sadness are getting on the Train of Thought, Joy knocks over 2 boxes filled with stuff. One of the boxes is labeled “Facts” the other box is labeled “Opinion”. As the stuff inside each box spills all over the floor of the train car, Joy exclaims “Oh no, facts and opinions got all mixed up”. Bing Bong, as he is randomly throwing stuff back in the boxes says “Oh don’t worry that happens all the time”. I laughed so hard.

In my grief I was surprised to discover the truth of this statement


How to Survive Mother’s Day as a Grieving Mom

On Mother’s Day I can think of no mother more deserving than a mother that had to give one back.” ~ Erma Bombeck

This weekend is going to be an emotional rollercoaster ride for me. On Friday I will be graduating from graduate school. It will be a celebration of 2 ½ years of stress and hard work. I will have accomplished something I didn’t think I could. The only damper to my day will be the fact that my boys are not there to share it with me.

Then Sunday is Mother’s Day.

I dread the approach of Mother’s Day. For some reason this holiday is different than the others. I have figured out how to survive holidays and the boy’s birthdays. (You can read about it here). But Mother’s Day is different.

How do you survive an entire day dedicated to celebrating motherhood, when you don’t feel like a mother anymore? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a mom and I always will be. But I don’t FEEL like a mom. There is a certain level of worry you live with when your children are around. All moms’ I know question themselves. Am I doing this right? Am I a good mother? How can I be better? With my children gone, I no longer have that level of worry about my children. I no longer spend my days questioning if I’m doing motherhood right. My days are no longer ordered around my kid’s schedule. I have only myself to think about and worry about. I no longer FEEL like a mom.

I loved being a mom. I had so much fun joking around with my boys and dreaming of their futures. I couldn’t wait to see who they grew up to be. I loved silliness and the craziness of having boys. Their creativity and how they saw the world always astounded me. I loved the organization of making sure they got to where they needed to be and keeping the house picked up after their whirlwind way of playing with toys. I even enjoyed the worry, the fighting, and the annoying little things they did. Because that’s what being a mom is all about. I MISS being a mom.

All holidays point to the fact my children are gone. But Mother’s Day screams it.

So how do I survive the day dedicated to being a mom, without my children around to make me feel like a mom? I hide. I refuse to attend church on Mother’s Day. I stay off Facebook. It hurts to much to see the pictures and read the stories of what has been done for the mom’s, knowing that I will never again have that in my life.

Last week I joined a Facebook group for grieving parents who have lost a child or children and are now childless. Everyday since joining someone has posted the question “How do I survive Mother’s Day?” The responses range from beautiful to desperate. Some spend the day with family; others decorate their children’s graves. Some, like me, hide away from the world for the day.

There really is no right or wrong way to get through the day. As a grieving mom you do what you have to do to survive the day. The best way through these days is to have a plan. Plan out what you would like to do that day. If the plan works you’ll get through the day and survive. If the plan doesn’t work out that’s ok too, you will still survive the day. The idea is to have a plan that you know will get you through the day.

This year my plan is to hide. I will buy myself my favorite chocolate and a new movie. I will curl up on my couch, lose myself in a good movie and pretend the world doesn’t exist. I will do this because on this one day it hurts to much to try and so I shut down. I miss being a mom.

Mother's Day