Protect Your Heart While You Grieve

It’s been a few years since I’ve written about self-care (Self Care or Selfish), but it remains an integral part in helping walk through the grief journey. Recently, I’ve been thinking that no matter how much time goes by, it’s still so important to protect your heart while you grieve. 

As the season changes from Summer to Fall, a bit of melancholy has tried to settle into my spirit. I love the Fall. It’s my favorite season, and it was Melanie’s favorite season, too. But, somewhere deep within my heart, the change reminds me that another year is going by and she isn’t here to enjoy it. Oh, I’m sure the Fall colors in Heaven are vivid and vibrant – so much more so than my mind can imagine, but while this mama is still on Earth, I miss my girl.

Protecting your heart while you grieve is critical to healing, regardless of the number of seasons that pass by. It’s easy to get mired down in the memories of what once was and never make our way out of the quagmire.

While holding on to our memories is comforting, they can often bring a sense of sadness, too. There is a balance somewhere in between, but it takes time to get there. So, what can you do to protect your heart while you grieve?

There are still some basic things that can help, like getting enough sleep and exercising. But truth be told, when you’re grieving, sleeping is often difficult—and exercising? It’s often last on my list of things I want to do. I’m just keeping it real here. What about all the other responsibilities we have? We often we put ourselves last and don’t consider our own needs.

Self-care has seven pillars: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, recreational, social, and environmental. Since we are all different, perhaps some of the following things I’ve found helpful may resonate with you:

Quiet Time / Praying
• Journaling
• Eating healthy meals and hydrating
• Confiding in a close friend or family member
• Grief Counseling

Although grief is very personal, we can’t easily do it alone. Even if you meet with a trusted friend for coffee, I encourage you not to try to do this by yourself. We can support one another through both the good times and hard times.

As you walk this road there will be those who are better able to provide the emotional support you need and others who cannot deal with grief. It’s common to find that those you may be closest to are not the ones who will support you on this journey. It’s not because they don’t care – it’s because they don’t understand grief. I encourage you to give grace and understanding to those people and lean into the ones who have been on this journey themselves. 

Lifting you up and praying for continued peace and comfort, trusting that God will do as He has promised

Searching for Meaning in Grief

If I’m being honest there are some days, when I’m simply exhausted by talking about grief. Oh, how I’d like to talk and write about something light and uplifting. Then, with my very next heartbeat, I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is how God is making beauty from ashes, and although not a journey I would have chosen, it’s where I’ve been planted. No parent chooses for their child to die before them but when it does happen, we are left searching for meaning in grief.

As time has moved forward have you wondered where you’re supposed to go from here? We don’t want our loved ones to be forgotten, nor do we want their deaths to be in vain. So, what does it mean to be searching for meaning in grief, and where do we find it? 

Meaning is different for each of us. When my heart was shattered into a million pieces I longed for connection. During that time, God continued to hold me close. Even in the middle of the hiccupping and sobbing, it was my faith that sustained me. Deep inside I knew this could not be the end – there had to be more to Melanie’s life and death than this. I found my meaning in grief when I began blogging to share with others who were on the same path.

Soon after I was led to write my book, Beautifully Broken Finding Hope During Loss. Even though I shared things about my life I would rather have kept private, I’ve heard from so very many how this book has been a lifeline for them. In the end, if sharing my story touches one heart and gives even one person hope during loss, then it’s all worth it. I will continue writing and blogging until God directs me to do something else.

I know many of you want to find meaning in your grief. Recently I read David Kessler’s book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. I found it very helpful and would highly recommend it. One of the things he shared is, “Ultimately, meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you are moving forward with your life. That doesn’t mean you’ll stop missing the one you loved, but it does mean you will experience a heightened awareness of how precious life is.”

Following are some of the insights I gleaned from the book that stuck out to me:
• Meaning takes time. You may not find it until months or even years after loss.
• Refuse to allow the death of your loved one to be meaningless or to make your life meaningless.
• Love and grief come as a package deal. If you love, you will one day know sorrow.
• Meaning is a reflection of the love we have for those we have lost. Meaning is the sixth stage of grief, the stage where the healing often resides.

My dear friend, Elaine Mitrano, lost her son Michael 12 years ago. A few years ago, she began “The Backpack Project, which has now become, Hope For Boston’s Homeless. When Elaine started this project, she was working out of her living room, and people would drop off gently used clothes, along with personal items on her doorstep. Each month she would fill backpacks for the homeless and deliver them to one of the hardest-hit areas in Boston. What started with 30 backpacks has now grown to 100 backpacks a month! What an amazing way to find meaning in grief!

Another friend, Cheryl Juaire, founded Team Sharing, a group which offers support to parents who have lost children due to the disease of addiction. There are chapters located throughout the U.S. which provide online and in-person support. She is a fierce advocate with local and state legislators and is committed to fighting the stigma of addiction so this doesn’t happen to one more family.

These are just a couple examples of what some have done. As you are searching for meaning in grief don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t have to be something epic or off-the-charts. Each of us has a path and I believe God will direct each one of us to where we need to be.

Grievers are Survivors

When we think of those who are grieving, we tend to lean more toward the negative. After all, what do grief and loss bring? Intense sadness, anxiety, depression, fear, and even anger. But hold on. If we take a moment to look closely at a person who is walking the grief journey, I believe we would see something else. We would see someone who perseveres, is courageous, strong, and highly compassionate. Even when we are down, we will not give up. Grievers are survivors!  

According to Webster, a survivor is a person regarded as resilient or courageous enough to overcome hardship and misfortune; a person who has survived an ordeal.

Death and loss certainly qualify as an ordeal. Today, you may not feel like you’re a survivor of anything, but I encourage you to be kind and gentle with yourself. Give yourself all the time you need. One day, you’ll wake up, and that overwhelming heaviness you once felt will be slightly lighter. In the days when you had no hope and only saw darkness, light will begin to seep through the cracks. 

Following are some attributes that show how grievers are survivors. We never see ourselves as others see us. Read on and perhaps you’ll see yourself in these examples:
You keep getting back up every time life knocks you down.
• You do what needs to be done no matter how you feel.
• You are the kind of person who would get up in the middle of the night to help a friend.
• You see what needs to be done, and you do it.
• You go above and beyond what is expected.
• You are resourceful and creative because you’ve had to be

One of the ways that has helped me become a survivor is that I include my daughter in so many things. I live for her and remember her in the various things I do every day. While it’s often done with a tear and a hint of sadness, there is also joy in the memories where we continue to keep her alive. 

On the days when you feel more like a dishrag than a survivor, hand it all over to God. He’s the one who can calm the uneasiness and unrest in your heart. When this mama’s heart is wrestling with my girl no longer being on this earth, He reminds me this isn’t our home. One day, he will wipe every tear from our eyes, and we will all be together again. (Revelation 21:4)

The Faithfulness of God During Hard Times

We often turn our anger toward God when we walk through grief and other challenging moments. When a loved one dies, it’s normal to question the faithfulness of God during hard times. After all, how could a good and faithful God have allowed this bad thing to happen to you and your family?

If you’re angry with Him right now because of where you find yourself, take a moment to read on. Who knows, maybe something in the next couple of paragraphs will be what you need to help soothe a little of the brokenness in your heart.

Over the weekend, I sat outside listening to the waterfall as the wind rustled through the trees. I thought it wasn’t that many years ago when I sat in this chair with my heart shattered into a million pieces, wondering where God was. I had been trying to understand how a loving, faithful God could allow this bad thing to happen to me.

As I sat there thinking back, a friend texted and asked if I had heard the song Faithfully by Toby Mac. I immediately responded that I had. She kindly replied, “I just heard it, and it made me think of you.” Someone had sent me his album, Life After Death, and this was one of the featured songs. It had been a while, so I pulled it up on YouTube and let the words sink into my spirit: 

It’s been a long year; it almost took me down I swear
Life was so good, I’m not so sure we knew what we had
I’ll never be the same man, I’ll never feel like I felt before
It’s been a hard year, it almost took me down, I swear

But when we my world broke into pieces
You were there faithfully
When I cried out to you Jesus
You made a way for me

I may never be the same man
But I’m a man who still believes
When I cried out to you Jesus
You were there faithfully

I’ve had a hard time, finding the blue in the skies above me
And if I’m keeping it real, I’ve been half fakin’ the happy they said
I may look like the same man, but I’m half the man I was
It’s been a hard year it almost took me down

In my darkest hour, You met me
So quietly, so gently
You said you’d never leave, and You stood by Your word

So quietly, so gently
And all my pain, You met me
You said you’ll never leave, and You stood by Your word

After listening, I thought about how loving and faithful God is! When you’re smack dab in the middle of the heaviness, it’s often hard to see God’s loving hand touching your life. But then, as time passes, little things begin to come together. In my quiet time, I would hear His voice and feel His hand guiding and moving me in ways that could only be Him.

Not so long ago, I read some encouraging words from Rick Warren, whose son died by suicide. This man, a pastor to over 10,000, had the same questions as we do. He said:

God gives you the hope of heaven.
If you believe in and trust Jesus Christ for salvation, then you will spend eternity in heaven with God—and that hope will sustain you through your time of loss. The Bible says, “We don’t want you to be ignorant about those who have died. We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 GW).

God uses your pain to help others.
This is called redemptive pain, and it is the highest and best use of your pain. “[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT).

Although I may never understand the “why” behind how my life has unfolded, and I may not initially see the faithfulness of God during the hard times, I will continue to trust Him with my whole heart. I hope that I can provide some level of comfort to others in the same way God provided His comfort to me.

The Road from Grief to Peace and Acceptance

As I continue to meet others on this grief journey one of the most common questions I get is, “How long will grief last?” That seems to be the million-dollar question. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a definitive answer? Instead of being a one-size-fits-all, the road from grief to peace and acceptance differs for all of us.

If others recognized that each person grieves in their own way and time frame, this may pave the way for acceptance. No one would feel any pressure to get through it quickly. Nor would anyone feel shame or guilt if they haven’t processed their grief like others imagine they should. 

How many of us have had someone tell us we should be over it by now? I know I had someone tell me this at the 7-month mark after Melanie ran ahead to heaven. It was like a slap in the face. I’m thankful for grace and understanding because even during my grief, I knew they had no clue what it was like to lose a child. And, for their sake, I’m glad they don’t.

We would all agree that navigating the choppy waters of grief can be very challenging. Grief affects many things – marriages, siblings, the change to the entire family dynamic, and a feeling of helplessness, especially in the early days. 

Yet, as time progresses, my hope and prayer for each of us is that we can find that the road from grief to peace and acceptance is possible. 

While we are still here on this earth, we have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of others. We can share our testimony of where we’ve been and how God has brought us through the valley of the shadow of death. 

As we move beyond the valley into a place of peace and acceptance, we must realize that we are not leaving our loved ones behind. But instead, we are moving forward in their honor and memory, taking them with us along every step. There is hope during loss!

It reminds me of the scripture in Ecclesiastes 3:   

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Something to think about – may you begin to allow your heart to be healed as you move along this journey, and may you laugh and dance again one day. 

International Overdose Awareness Day

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. Each year on this day I create a special post specifically dedicated to honor the memory of all those who were lost to overdose and the parents who are grieving them.

My daughter, Melanie lost her life to the disease of addiction in 2020. Prior to that I never knew such a day existed. Sadly, this is the 4th year I have been a member of a group that no one ever asks to join.

If you have not had this disease touch your life directly I imagine you know someone who has. Regardless of the way your loved one died, grief is still grief, and loss is loss. We all hurt the same and miss our loved ones.

Please know that if you have lost a loved one due to an overdose, I see you and I care.

Today, I want to bring awareness to what is an often-overlooked disease in our country.

Did you know that Substance Use Disorder is in fact an actual disease?

Are you aware that the disease of addiction touches people of all backgrounds, despite race, religion, education, or social class?

People from all walks of life have suffered from substance abuse or known someone who has.

People who suffer from substance abuse are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends to many. It is up to us to make strides to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse and bring about education and healing.

I’ve watched the videos, looked at hundreds of photos, and read countless heartbreaking stories of love, loss and grief. Today many will post pictures of our loved ones on social media, fly beautiful purple balloons from our homes, porches will be filled with beautifully hand-painted chairs, candles will be lit and in some states flags will fly at half-staff.

You are stronger than you think and I am in awe of each of you.

Sending each of you much love and prayers that this disease will be recognized for what it is, and in the days to come awareness and support will be provided to help others.

Melanie’s Meadow

Walking Through the Wilderness

When our hearts are sorrowful, it can sometimes feel like we are walking through the wilderness. However, if you’ve ever gone hiking, walking through the wilderness can often bring a sense of peace.  

As we walk along the path, there is beauty that surrounds us. Often times those walks bring a sense of calm and serenity. We may need this if our hearts are broken and searching for healing. Instead of the wilderness being a dark place, it can be a place where we find direction, solitude, and inspiration.

As an introvert, quiet places are actually energizing for me. We live near a lake that has beautiful walking trails winding through the woods that follow the lake shore. There have been many times when my heart has been heavy, and after walking there, I feel lighter, stronger.  

The wilderness can also be a sacred place. It’s also on those walks where I can hear from my Heavenly Father. I can feel his peace surrounding me, and without the distractions of other things, He can minister to my heart. Something I could not previously see or hear becomes more apparent and visible to me.  

As one grieves, there can be a dark, lonely, and isolating period of walking in the wilderness. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Moses as he led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 long years?

God uses these times to teach us things as He takes us toward something better. From a spiritual perspective, being in the wilderness can be a time of renewal or an encounter with God, like Moses and the burning bush.  

When we come face-to-face with sorrow and suffering, we can wonder where God is and why he allows certain things to happen to us. Or we can choose to see that He will use whatever challenges we are facing for His good and what He wants to do in our life story. As we walk this road may we trust in The One who can make all things new.

Elvis and My Dad

On Tuesday afternoon, August 16, 1977, I was walking down the street with my portable transistor radio listening to the latest disco music. Then all of a sudden, the newscaster broke through and announced that Elvis Presley had died. I can still clearly remember having an overwhelming feeling of sadness. I couldn’t believe that the King of Rock and Roll was dead at 42, leaving behind a young daughter. Little did I know then that from that day forward Elvis and my dad would be connected.

Exactly one week later (almost to the minute), on Tuesday afternoon, August 23, 1977, as I returned home from a carefree afternoon of shopping in downtown Boston, my dad was killed in a car accident. 

Sure, Elvis and my dad were as far as the East is from the West, but they both had more than a few of things in common: they both joined the Army and served their country, were incredibly generous men, each fought addictions, and they both died way too young, leaving behind young daughters.  

The trajectory of my life changed that day. Here we are 46 years later, and it remains a time I vividly remember.

Grief and loss follow us through life. As we grow older and time passes by, the sharpness of the grief may ease but the memories still remain. As we move forward, it helps when we choose to do so with positivity and hope. We take our loved ones with us wherever we go.

We can never truly lose the people we deeply love. They live on in our hearts and minds forever. When we are grieving, each day may bring with it some sort of battle, but one day we will learn to accept and live our best life for them.

Yes, there are certain times in life we never forget. Continue reading here: Times In Life We Never Forget.  

Loss, Trauma, and Catastrophizing

If you’ve been walking this grief journey for any length of time, you are well acquainted with grief. But are you familiar with catastrophizing? Loss, trauma, and catastrophizing frequently go hand-in-hand for many of us who have lost a loved one.   

Until recently, I had never heard the phrase used in this context, but once explained, I could understand and relate to it personally.   

Since your loved one ran ahead to Heaven, do you often feel as though another catastrophe is just around the corner? Do you often feel as if another bad thing will happen any minute? This is catastrophizing.   

Grief expert, David Kessler, posted a video where he admitted to being a card-carrying catastrophizer. As he began to talk, I saw myself in every word. Oh, I hate to admit that I am also one, but it also helps to know I am not alone.   

If you’re still unsure what this is, catastrophizing is when we assume the worst will happen when nothing is really wrong.   

For those of us who catastrophize, we have often seen or experienced a catastrophe – a death, trauma, addiction, and children of alcoholics often find themselves in this place.   

It was reassuring to hear that even medical and mental health professionals often find themselves catastrophizing. If we’ve seen something traumatic, we are left with “catastro-vision.”   

A great example is, “I don’t ever have a headache. I have a brain tumor.” You automatically shift your thoughts to the final scenario which typically always end with a negative result.  

I have been very open in sharing that my father died in a car accident when I was a teenager. Then, my daughter died unexpectedly. It’s easy for me to slip back into the past and what I went through then. If I don’t take control over those thoughts I can easily end up in an anxiety-fueled state.

Here are a few tips on how we can help ourselves manage these moments:  

Tell your mind nothing has actually gone wrong. Tell yourself that if and when there is a trauma, you will show up for it at that time.
• Find ways to calm yourself down. Do something different. Read, watch television, pray, listen to music, go for a walk.
• Reach out to someone you trust who isn’t going to catastrophize with you.
• Train your mind to think about the best scenario.

I know there will be times when this is easier said than done. But, I hope by sharing this information you no longer feel like you’re the only one. Catastrophizing is common for those who have experienced loss and trauma. Hold on and don’t give up. Wishing you all a peaceful week!

Lessons in Grief

During this time of year, many of us are sending our children back to school. Please tell me, where did the summer go? Time truly is moving by much too fast.

I’m sitting here wondering how it is that we are sending our youngest off to his first year of high school tomorrow. Wasn’t it just yesterday when I walked him hand-in-hand into kindergarten?

Everyone keeps telling me how quickly the next four years will fly by. I don’t doubt this. When I think about it, it’s been almost 4 years since I went Back To School. After Melanie ran ahead to heaven, there were so many hard lessons I had yet to learn. As the first day of school approaches, I thought I’d share the top 10 lessons I’ve learned in grief so far: 

No one grieves the same.
• There is no definitive period of time for grieving.
• My faith is the absolute cornerstone for all that holds me together.
• It is normal to be laughing one moment and crying the next.
• When life begins moving forward, I am not leaving my loved one behind.
• Life can change in an instant. Forgive quickly and love fiercely.
• Your priorities in life take a dramatic shift. We no longer sweat the small stuff.
• Do not expect others to heal your heart and brokenness. Only God can do that.
• I will never be the same person I was before.
• We never really recover from grief; we learn how to live our lives as best we can around the missing piece of our heart.

Grief is one of the most challenging journeys we will walk, but there IS hope during loss. Even if you can’t see or feel it now, hang on because it gets better.

Of all the lessons in grief I’ve learned, music remains a significant part of my healing as I walk this long journey. The songs I listen to continue to help ease the sadness I carry. But tears are part of our healing. We must learn to embrace them and not be embarrassed or ashamed. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book (NLT)  Psalm 56:8.

Today I woke up with this song on my heart and want to share it with you. I’ve captured part of the chorus below that resonated with me. I hope it touches your heart and reminds you that no matter how you may feel, you are never alone.

Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

Carrying Our Bag of Sorrows

As we go through life, we carry many things with us – memories of our first loves, the day we got married, the births of our children, overall life experiences – both happy and sad. Inevitably, we also carry the hurts and losses – deaths of loved ones, broken relationships, job loss, wayward children. The list can go on and on. Whether it’s intentional or not, we begin carrying our bag of sorrows.   

It becomes a place where all the losses and disappointments in life get tucked away. One day you turn around, and you feel the overwhelming heaviness of that bag. The darkness comes upon you because you’ve allowed that bag of sorrows to overtake you.   

You wake up, and without realizing it, you feel heavier. Your heart is no longer as light, happy, or fulfilled as it once was. You stop doing the things you once loved and become grumpy and snippy to those you claim to love.   

Relationships that were once so important have been pushed to the side. You avoid those closest to you, no longer reaching out but running in the other direction. Instead of seeing love, care, and support, you now seem to view things through a darkened lens caused by the unhappiness in your world.    

This is all part of the grief journey and the deep disappointments that have affected your life. Understandably, these hurts can change a person. As a mother who has lost a child, it’s often been said that we are never the same person we once were. True, but I also don’t want my heart hardened to the point where I’m pushing away all the happiness and joy life can offer. We are still here, and God isn’t finished with us yet.   

We can allow the darkness to overtake us and carry our bag of sorrows around like a medal of honor. Or we can begin to allow God to heal our hearts and let the joy of the Lord be our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10) Instead of avoiding that person, reach out and call them. Make a date for a cup of coffee. Take a chance – be vulnerable and share your heart and how you’ve been feeling. Then move forward, taking all the good with you.

Many years ago I lost one of my best friends to ovarian cancer. Within 90 days of her diagnosis, she was gone. This wicked disease was swift and brutal. She was like a sister to me, and I was devastated. However, one of the things I remember most as I stood there in her hospital room, one hour before she ran ahead to heaven, was a song that came on the television. It was Michael W. Smith sitting at a piano singing a song I’d never heard –Friends. Suddenly, as I began to really hear the words I realized it was a beautiful gift God was giving me.

But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong.
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end.
Though it’s hard to let you go in the Father’s hands, we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

Friends, instead of carrying our bag of sorrows around, let’s consider laying them aside. I hope you’ll take a moment to listen to this song and let God begin to heal the brokenness within. If you have suffered any loss, don’t try to get your arms around it. Let God get His arms around you. He knows you’re suffering and will give you the comfort of His presence and the healing balm of His love.   

The Emptiness of Grief

When I was growing up, if someone died, my mother would immediately head for the kitchen, where she would begin cooking a beautiful Italian meal of sauce, meatballs, and pasta. She’d then ask my father to drive her over to that person’s house so she could sit with them. Inevitably, when we arrived, the house would be filled with family, neighbors, and friends offering comfort. Everyone would share stories about the person who died, and there would be laughter among the tears. So, when I became an adult, this was how I imagined grief and loss was processed. But now, after walking this journey for a few years, it’s not the initial meals and company I remember most. It’s the emptiness of grief that settles into the cracks where the hole in our hearts now is. Who knew that grief could be such an empty place?  

Sure, those early days are typically filled with visits from friends and meals being dropped off. But, if I could share one thing with those who walk alongside people who are grieving, it’s this – we need you just as much and probably even more, in the days and months ahead. 

Even if years have passed, we still love when someone mentions the name of our loved one. It means they haven’t been forgotten. It doesn’t make us sad when you say their name. Saying their name lets us know you remember them.  

The emptiness of grief comes when everyone has gone back to their lives and reality sets in. You look over and see the empty chair at your table. The garage opens but it’s not your loved one walking through the back door. The phone rings but the name that pops up on the screen isn’t the one your heart longs to see.

The emptiness of grief is seen and felt every night when you crawl into bed, and the space next to you is empty.  

The emptiness of grief is felt as you walk by your child’s room and the silence is deafening.

I read a story recently about a little girl who got home late after visiting her friend. Her mother asked why she was delayed, and the child said, “I was helping Jane. Her doll broke.” The mother asked, “Did you help her fix it?” Jane said, “No. I helped her cry.”  

Grief is complicated, and we need people to come alongside us to listen, offer a hug, or simply just remember our loved one with us.  

I’m comforted by my faith in God and grateful for how He carried me through the darkest days. Grief takes work, and although I’ve come a long way since that first day, there are still moments when grief takes the wind out of my sails. It’s part of me now.

Thank you to those who have continued to walk beside me even after all this time! You will never know how much your love, care, and support have meant.  

The Battle for Quiet Time

The older I get, time seems to be more elusive. The battle for quiet time has become my opponent. While walking this grief journey, there are times when every moment seems like a battle. So, what have the best Generals in the Army done when they are in a fight? They create a plan to conquer the enemy. This has become my goal. I treasure my quiet time so very much. Beginning the day in the peaceful serenity of the morning with a cup of coffee, my Bible, a favorite devotional, and my treasured journal is my favorite way to begin each day. But the battle for my quiet time has become my new enemy.   

Granted, this has been a busy season in life, but somehow my treasured time of day has taken on a new life, and I miss my old one and want it back. Do you feel that other things have crept into your quiet time and taken over?  

When Melanie first ran ahead to Heaven, I didn’t sleep much and found myself awake at 5:00 a.m. This time was my time. I wasn’t anyone’s wife, mother, or co-worker during those early morning hours. But it was my time as a daughter to be with my Heavenly Father. This was earmarked as the time between me and Jesus. When did the battle for quiet time even become a battle?   

Well, it didn’t take me too long to realize the major enemy of my time sits squarely in my right hand – my iPhone. Oh, I have such a love-hate relationship with it. It houses my entire life within its little 7″ oblong body. As scary as it sounds, I’ve let it become the thing that actually runs my whole life. It tells me when and where to come and go. It tells me when it’s someone’s birthday or anniversary. It’s even become the substitute for the pages of my old, well-loved, treasured Bible that’s been through so much of life with me. Now if I want to read a passage of scripture, I can just pull it up on my Bible app!   

Oh, the battle for quiet time is real, and I recently woke up realizing I didn’t want to fight this battle anymore. I want my life back; the only way to do it is to take it back. Yes, I can do this! Cue the music from Rocky as he’s running up the steps in Philadelphia! I know what I can do – get rid of my phone! Great idea, right?! I picture in my mind all the women protesting for freedom in the 60s, many burning their bras! Now that was a statement, wasn’t it?! Freedom sounds good, but on second thought, I need my bra … and iPhone.

My Friends, sometimes we just need to take a moment and return to the basics. Life can be overwhelming in and of itself, then put a grieving heart in the midst of it, and life IS overwhelming on many days. We need and crave our quiet time. For some of us, it’s the key to surviving the day in front of you. I know I need to begin my day in the quiet presence of the Lord. He helps to calm my heart and all the worries within. He speaks peace to all that concerns me, and because I know Heaven is where my girl is, I want to remain as close to Him as possible.   

Today, I’m determined to reinstate a few things to regain control of some parts of my life. After pouring that first cup of coffee, I’ll sit quietly for a few minutes instead of first reaching for my phone. Instead of letting the world’s distractions take over, I will enjoy the peace and quiet of the moment. Before reading the latest comments on Facebook or Instagram, I’m determined to read my devotionals or Bible first. Then, I hope to spend a few moments writing in my journal – the place where God has met me repeatedly over the years. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, will you join me in taking back a tiny piece of your life? 

Compartmentalizing Grief: Are You a Waffle or a Spaghetti?

When my husband and I first got married, I remember reading a book called, “Men Are Like Waffles, and Women Are Like Spaghetti.” Funny title, isn’t it? But one I’ve never forgotten. While the grief journey continues to ebb and flow, recently, Melanie has been strongly on my heart. I came across some photos of her that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and it hit me all over again – she really is gone and isn’t coming back. It’s then that I realized – I’ve been compartmentalizing my grief.  

I am very introspective and am constantly looking within. While I’m so grateful God continues to heal my broken heart, there are times when if I look deep within, the heaviness and brokenness of grief is still there. Churning away … like slow-burning embers after a horrific fire. While the flames have been put out, significant damage has been done because the loss and destruction remain underneath. Does this sound familiar to you?  

For some reason, this got me thinking about this book. The premise is that men deal with one issue at a time, typically going from one waffle square to another. While women and their thoughts interchange, multi-task, and jump from one thing to another with ease, in the same way, spaghetti is wound around and through one another.    

While we absolutely need to do the grief work and all it takes to heal, I also don’t necessarily think compartmentalizing is a bad thing. At specific points on this journey, perhaps it’s more like self-preservation. When we are forced to survive a horrific event, we often develop coping strategies. I used to be the Queen of Multi-tasking, but maybe being a waffle right now has benefits over being a spaghetti.  

It may seem disenchanting to realize that these feelings continue to crop up even years later, but in reality, it just makes us human. Grief is never a one-and-done.  

We should be proud of how far we’ve come! Look at the road behind you and notice all the terrain you’ve covered. All the large boulders and potholes encountered in the early days, when you could barely climb out or around them. Then, look at where you are today.  

If you find you’re compartmentalizing your grief, it’s OK. Whether you’re a waffle or a spaghetti, no matter where you are on this journey, give yourself credit for every step it took to get here. It’s all progress … one step, one moment, one breath at a time.

Bereaved Parents Awareness Month

Every year the month of July is designated as Bereaved Parents Awareness Month. There was a time in my life when I never knew such a thing existed. However, now, as a parent who has a child who ran ahead to heaven, I’m all too painfully aware. At first, I wondered why we needed a designated month since there is never a time when we don’t miss our children, and there is never a moment when we forget we are bereaved parents.

I’ve come to realize that this month is really dedicated to creating awareness about parents’ grief after the unfortunate loss of a child. It’s about the support parents need in order to live with such unimaginable loss. Parents should never outlive their children. The pain is beyond measure, and parents will carry this grief with them for the rest of their lives.

If you have lost a child and are struggling, please reach out to your family, friends, and communities that support the grief journey. Don’t hesitate to seek out a professional counselor so you can take good care of your mental health. Talking about loss and death can be challenging, but it’s an important first step toward healing.

Even though we all grieve differently, lean into your family members for support as they are probably going through many of the same emotions and struggles you are. Although grief can create feelings of loneliness, you are not alone.

For many, it can be tough to talk about their grief. Some feel it’s too personal, and even though talking about it can help a heart heal, some may hesitate. What about the times we have begun to speak about the death of our child only to be met with a look of discomfort and then a hasty goodbye? This experience alone can bring about a pause to not want to venture down that road again. But don’t give up. We all need one another.

Some thoughts if you are a friend or family member of a parent who is grieving:
· Most times, there are simply no words. Don’t look for the perfect or “right” thing to say. There isn’t anything you can say that can take away the pain of losing a child. Just lend an ear and simply listen. Be there and witness their grief. Let them talk, cry, share stories, or just be.
· Offer to do errands, clean their home, and bring food. These are everyday necessities, but often someone walking through their child’s death doesn’t have the energy, desire, or thought to physically do some of the day-to-day chores.
· Be the friend you would like to have if this was you and your child died.

I came across this poem a couple of years ago, and as I read each line, I could see myself in so many of the words. As we begin Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, I’d like to share it with you again as I have done in previous years.

When they leave for Heaven you’ll miss them a little everyday
But some days you’ll miss them a little more
You’ll think of them sometimes once, sometimes more times than you can count
You’ll be reminded of their laugh
You’ll try to remember what it felt like driving to their house knowing they would be there
You’ll wonder what it would be like if they were there on the other end of the phone for no reason other than a “Hey, how’s your day?”
You’ll think of them and try to remember all the good days, but something will always lead you to that last day with, that last hug, that last I love you and that final goodbye
When they leave for Heaven you’ll miss them a little everyday
But somedays you’ll miss them a little more
You’ll cry on the days you miss them a little more
You’ll look for them a little harder
You’ll try that old phone number hoping it might just be one big mistake and they somehow answer
You’ll look over at the empty seat hoping that if you stare at it enough they’ll be there
You’ll drive to the places that you visited with them
You’ll say a few extra prayers and hope they hear them
You’ll talk to them and sit in silence hoping for a response back
You’ll wear their favorite shirt and listen to their favorite band
You’ll pray so hard that you could have them back just long enough to hug them so tight and say “I miss you so much today and everyday”
Because when they leave for Heaven you’ll miss them a little everyday
But somedays you’ll miss them a little more
Author Unknown

Grief – A Lifetime Sentence?

Just like a person convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve jail time, is grief a lifetime sentence? If you ask any parent who has ever lost a child, the answer may likely be a resounding yes. Yet, some have lost spouses and have been able to move forward in life with another partner and often remarry. So, is grief a lifetime sentence?

Is the main difference, then, the relationship? Child loss vs. spousal loss? What about parental loss? Each loss is important in and of itself but can also be vastly different.

Loss happens every day, but when put in such a way as to label grief as a lifetime sentence, it can sound hopeless – and I believe there truly is hope during loss.

Losing a loved one is heart-wrenching, no matter what the relationship. But people are forced to handle it. What other choice do we have? Grief is not easy, but we continue to live and breathe every day. We have to choose to keep moving forward and learn how to survive without our loved ones beside us.

There are days when we are walking on clouds. Light and airy, with no care in the world and the sunshine at our backs. Our future looks bright, and we can smile again and think about a time ahead without such extreme sadness.

Then, there are days when walking through this grief journey, it feels as if we are walking through quicksand. It’s like we’ve been covered with the heaviness of a wet blanket with no relief in sight.

Grief feels like a lifetime sentence on those days when you feel as if every step you take is like a cement weight around your ankles, and you’re back at square one. As hard as these days are, we must not give up. This is all part of the process, and the walk called grief. Some days all you can do is survive.

Those who have gone before me have confirmed the most challenging days of grief aren’t life sentences. You must go through the hard and heavy days to get to the brighter and better days ahead.

It is possible for our hearts and lives to be restored. It won’t ever be exactly as before, but there is healing within the tears and hurt of loss. I care deeply about you and your grief and always send love and prayers for comfort and peace.

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Without realizing it, it occurred to me that I have often lived my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. It doesn’t take a session being psychoanalyzed to know this comes from the fact that both my father and daughter died unexpectedly. When a traumatic death occurs, we face the unfortunate fact that our lives can change instantly. I don’t know your story, but have you ever felt this way?

Waiting for the other shoe to drop can be challenging because we always sit on the precipice of worry and anxiety. Hardly a peaceful existence, is it? Yet, generally speaking, peace is something we all yearn for each and every day of our lives.

Once we realize the enormity of how an unexpected or traumatic death has affected our lives, it may be at this place where we can begin to find peace, hope, and security once again.

We can’t control our pain, but we can decide whether it will make us bitter or better. We can determine whether it will be a stepping stone or a stumbling block. We must remember that, even in our pain, God is working for our good.

Whenever those “not-so-good” feelings rise within me, I cling to what I know can bring me the peace I long for and crave. After all, who really desires to live in constant anxiety and stress? No one.

So, what can we do? First, I begin to remind myself of all the good that I have in my life. I know it’s so easy to recall only the difficult, sad and hard times. But, remembering all the good in our lives and bringing gratitude into our hearts can help turn things around. I also put on my favorite worship music. The sounds of praise quell the storm rising up in my chest. I may begin taking a few deep breaths and try to focus on the most peaceful picture I can imagine. For me, maybe it’s the beautiful beaches of Bermuda, or the breathtaking colors of a sunrise or sunset. There are a few favorite verses of scripture I quietly whisper to myself, which is really my heartfelt cry out to God, The Prince of Peace, who I need now more than ever.

Yes, death can be unpredictable and unexpected, changing our lives instantly. But we don’t have to live with the constant fear of wondering when the next shoe will drop. We can run to the Father and cling to Him as our life preserver amid the mightiest storm. I’m not a veteran who has overcome this, but I am a child of God who continues to lean in and learn at the feet of her Father.

The Fight to Flourish

Grief work is hard. It seems absurd to make that statement because anyone who has suffered a loss knows how difficult this journey is. We don’t get through grief by happenstance. It takes work to walk this road. After losing my daughter, I read as much as possible as I tried to piece together the broken fragments of my heart. One of those books was The Fight to Flourish by Jennie Lusko

When I read this book, my broken heart was still very tender. Yet, I still learned so many lessons that have remained with me over the years. Perhaps some of those things I gleaned from Jennie’s experience and wisdom will also resonate with you. 

Levi and Jennie Lusko’s 5-year-old daughter, Lenya, died unexpectedly on December 20, 2012. In my mind, this alone qualified them to speak on the fiercely challenging subject of child loss. When my book, Beautifully Broken, was published, Jennie was one of the first people to send me a beautiful, encouraging handwritten note. I was so grateful. Following are some of the things she shared that have guided me in my endeavor to live my life as a legacy and in honor of Melanie. 

While grief and loss will always be one of the most intensely difficult things we will endure in this life, we should do our best to live and flourish. God is not finished with you if you are still alive and breathing. You still have a story to share and others to help, support, love, care for, and influence. God created us, so He understands. He’s right here with us amid the heartache and pain. Even though it isn’t easy, we can fight to flourish.

Jennie uses a great analogy about how we grow plants from seed. If you think about it, what do we do when we begin the process? We dig a deep hole, then place the seed down, covering it entirely with dirt. It’s in total darkness, appearing as though it doesn’t stand a chance of becoming much of anything. Yet, as we begin to care for that tiny seed, water and fertilize it, and provide warmth and sunshine, it begins to thrive and grow. Then one day, we begin to see a tiny green shoot spring up through the ground. This small seed that we covered up in darkness begins to flourish. 

We need to provide the same self-care for ourselves, allowing us the same opportunity to live and grow. It doesn’t mean the darkness will always be gone. God designed us to be a light in the dark, and Jesus is the light inside us. He will be with us in the darkness and the light. We survive by clinging to Him. 

Where are you right now? Are you struggling in the dark? If so, take heart and be encouraged. We can fight to flourish, but to do so, we need to know that God is with us there in the darkness. We don’t do this in our own strength but in His. “Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.” Ephesians 6:10. 

My friends, don’t consider giving up. Just think of that little sprig of green shooting up through that deep, dark hole and wet soil. If we allow ourselves to be tended to like a well-watered garden, we will begin to flourish once more. It takes time and grace. I pray you give both of these gifts to yourself. 

The Knower of My Everything

When walking through the grief journey, how many of us have heard, “We’re praying for you?” How many times have we said this to others? I know I’ve probably said it thousands of times. But really, when we say we’re praying for someone, what do we do? Do we have to quote scripture? Do we have to get on our knees? Do we have to be in a church for God to hear us? For me, I’ve always believed that prayer is nothing more than talking to God, anywhere, anytime … after all, He is the knower of my everything.

There isn’t anything that happens in our lives that He isn’t aware of, but even when we are doing our best to walk by faith it can be challenging sometimes. Yes, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, but even as I walk in the strength of my faith, there have been times when I’ve wondered if He’s heard me. 

Not long ago, I came across something that Melissa Neeb shared from Faith in the Mess. I was touched by the simplicity of her approach to her “Friend.” I loved when she shared: “You SEE me. You GET me.”  Oh, how we all need to be seen and understood. 

Grief can often be such a lonely place, but we truly are never alone. If you’ve been on the struggle bus, wondering if God sees you, hears you, or if you’re approaching him in the right way, continue reading. I believe you will be encouraged and uplifted. Wishing you a beautiful and peaceful day!

I never understood prayer.
It seemed so obligatory. Formal. Contrived.
The “Our Father’s. Fingers neatly and politely intertwined. Eyes low. Neck curled downward.
Standing. Kneeling. Mind wandering.
Listing requests, people’s names, and proper terms for God.
So serious. So reverent.
I rarely ever pray that way now.
Instead, I talk to God in my head.
He has a sense of humor, you know.
I hear him laughing when my mind takes 17 loopy loops and I forget altogether that I’m praying.
He is much more gentle with me than I ever gave him credit for.
He is so INFORMAL. He loves me wildly and easily.
He knows my imperfections and dark shadows and he sees me stumble and gosh, he doesn’t care about any of that. He just wants my willing, wide-open, crazy-for-him-and-his-creation heart.
I just talk to my Friend all day. It wouldn’t make sense to anyone but us.
It’s inside jokes and impossible grace and sweet tenderness that makes me weep.
It’s him. The Knower of my everything.
It’s me. My radiant, glorious humanness.
It’s us. An ongoing, effortless, no-subject-off-limit,
“You SEE me, you GET me,” always spontaneous, transparent conversation.
That is prayer to me.
(No formality required.)

Shared with permission from Faith in the Mess by Melissa Neeb

Living on Earth with My Eyes on Heaven

Since Melanie ran ahead to Heaven, I’ve become more curious about the place that is now her home. Because that’s where my girl is, I want to know as much about Heaven as possible. As the years have passed, I realize I’m living on Earth with my eyes on Heaven.   

Have you thought of Heaven more now since your loved one died? Do you wonder what it’s like there? 

A few days before Melanie died, I downloaded the book, Imagine Heaven by John C. Burke. Even today, I cannot tell you why I did that. I didn’t wonder about Heaven then and don’t recall doing this, but God knew. He knew I’d need to read about His home and where Melanie was now living. So about 3 weeks after she died, I picked up my iPad and discovered it on my Kindle. It was not only eye-opening but also brought me a sense of peace as I got a small glimpse into what she must be experiencing now. 

People he interviewed had several things in common when they returned and told of their experiences. The bright light of Heaven is a common one and was confirmed by many. Others spoke of being escorted to Heaven by a family member, initially meeting God and other loved ones. So many told of the almost inexplicable beauty – the flowers, the sky, the water, the magnificent gold, and exquisite-colored gemstones. Even the food was talked about! One person said the fruit on the trees is like nothing compared to Earth. When they plucked a piece from the tree, another one immediately appeared. Heaven has no death – even when it comes to fruit trees!

I’m getting my certification as a Grief Educator, and it was recommended that we read, Within Heaven’s Gates by Rebecca Springer. She talks about meeting her brother-in-law as she got to Heaven and how he showed her the house he was building for her and her husband, readying it for their arrival. It reminded me of the scripture from John 14:1-4.

Another book I’m in the process of reading is Visits from Heaven by Pete Deison. Pete is a pastor from Dallas, TX, whose wife died by suicide. He was grappling with the stigma surrounding death by suicide, as many feel it’s a sin to die in this manner. His wife was a strong Christian who loved the Lord but struggled with depression and mental illness. Pete went on a quest, digging into the scriptures to search for what the Lord says about this. Instead of pointing him toward suicide being a sin, Pete found quite the opposite. God was with his wife during her breakdown and death, and he is positive she is with the Lord today. 

Another good book is the firsthand account of Don Piper, who was in a horrific car crash and was declared dead. Miraculously he came back to life and recounts his story in the book 90 Minutes in Heaven. 

As for me, being a woman of faith, I have no doubt there is such a place as Heaven, and I am confident that is where Melanie is, along with my parents and many others who have gone before me. While I remain here, I’ll continue living on Earth with my eyes on Heaven. I’m confident it’s a place of beauty where there is no sickness, hatred, depression, anxiety, or fear. Only peace, love, and joy – all of Jesus’ qualities. If you too are a Believer we will all see him standing face-to-face one glorious day.

For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our everlasting home in heaven. Hebrews 13:14 TLB

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