Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blog Update

Over the next few days I'm going to be tweaking the blog a bit.  I'm adding some stand-alone pages up at the top to make looking for specific posts a bit easier.  

Please, let me know if you like/don't like the changes.  I am not a clever computer person by any stretch of the imagination, so I'll take any input you have!  And if you encounter any glitches or links that don't work, just drop me a comment or an e-mail, I'll be standing by.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lethargy and a quick Rant

I really feel off schedule.

Studying for my new message on the loaves and fishes is almost impossible.

Yes, I am actually taking pictures of my bookshelves

All I want to do these days is lay in bed, read to Theo, and get to the gym for half an hour. (Although I did make dinner almost every night last week, as well as clean a few kitchen cupboards and scrub the bathroom tub.)  The list of things I didn't do is slightly more comprehensive.

Perhaps I do need medication.  Or a kick in the pants.

Or perhaps another baby.  (Which is not a current option because our health insurance doesn't cover anything pregnancy-related.)
Two of my favorite guys
Oh, and our 17 year old car finally died last month, and in the last several weeks our 8 year old car has required over $2,000 worth of repair.  Apparently she needed a new clutch, master/slave, engine coils, and alternator (among other things!)


OK, enough blowing off steam.  How are you guys doing?

Musical inspiration here.  (I can literally listen to this for hours!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Selective Memory

I'm starting to find that my memories of Vincent are increasingly divided into three categories: things I remember and recall on a daily basis, things I have already forgotten, and things I remember (and don't want to forget) yet the recalling process is painful because of the very nature of the memories.

Nine months ago this week, Vincent died.  His last few days, weeks even, are burned into my mind, easy to visualize, precious, yet painful.  I don't enjoy recalling these memories very often, I have a file of pictures on my desktop entitled "pictures to never look at" and yet sometimes I wake up in the morning and throughout the day have mini flash-backs of those very moments.
Last time to play outside
Those are also the days I cry constantly and stay in bed.  Don't get me wrong, I never want to forget any of these memories.  But recalling them regularly is painful, costly, exhausting.

Then there are things I can recall easily on a daily basis:  Vincent nursing, playing and taking baths with his brother, going to the park, watching Sesame Street, everyone eating dinner and going to the beach.
First year photo shoot by Luminosity
Sprinkled in here are memories of diagnosis, hospital stays, medical complications.  (Like that d*&% feeding pump!!)  Most of the time I can remember these easily and bring them to mind without great pain, without that sinking, suffocating feeling of overwhelming grief.

And then there are things I have simply forgotten, memories that are lost somewhere in my mind due to exhaustion, inattentiveness.  For years now I've read blogs written by moms of multiple kids, and somehow they seem to manage their farming, crafting, nursing, and mothering pretty well.  I, however, was one of those moms that felt very overwhelmed with having two children under the age of two.  Both children were in diapers, needed more attention than I could give and had difficulty eating (Vincent had GERD).  My husband was gone 3-4 nights out of the week attending grad school, and I was working as well, largely from home.  It wasn't until Vincent turned one year old that I felt I really had a handle on it, raising these two kids, crafting, cooking dinners, cleaning the house, and staying on top of work.  Vincent's first year was a blur for me of busyness, exhaustion, and overwhelming stress.

And then he was diagnosed with cancer, right after his first birthday.

There is so much I'd like to remember from that priceless year we all shared.  I'd love to be able to recall just one week of how we spent our time, loved each other, how we made it to the end of the day in one piece.  I'd love to remember that one Christmas together, that Easter season, any day trips we took.

There is so much I don't remember.

For now I'll keep recalling any memories I do have, painful or not, overwhelming or mundane.  I'll nurture them in my heart like my love for Vincent, ever flourishing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What TO Say to a grieving parent

My last post (read:  rant) was on the topic of what NOT to say to grieving parents.  Today I've decided to be a bit more helpful and instead give some ideas of what TO say to parents who are grieving the loss of a child.

1.  Acknowledge the depth of the loss 
There are so many ways of doing this, the important thing is to be authentic you can say something like "This is so heartbreaking" or "I'm so, so sorry for your loss" or "I can't even begin to imagine how terrible this loss must be for your family."

Don't think you are exempt from this point if you haven't seen the griever in question for a while!! Many grievers (myself included) can barely even remember who attended the funeral, we feel so dazed, disoriented.  I'm just emerging out of the fog that was the first few months after our son Vincent's death.  So make sure you do this when you see the griever, even if you sent a sympathy card and/or attended the funeral.

This is also an important point not to forget when you're meeting people for the first time and hear a bit of their story.  Since Vincent's death we've met several different couples at various birthday parties, and the inevitable "How many kids do you have" question came up.  Our answer these days is, "Two, we have a four year old named Theo and another son, Vincent, in heaven."  Believe me, it can be quite the conversation killer.  People often look confused, flustered, some have even said "Oh" and walked away.  I'm pretty ruthless, and for those that haven't yet walked away I usually follow up with, "Yes, he passed away last year from liver cancer."

This is a sort of test for me - if you pass it, we can be friends.  If not, well, then, perhaps not.  Fortunately, most people have the presence of mind to say something conciliatory.  So if you find out upon meeting someone that they have lost a child, please, meaningfully acknowledge the depth of the loss.  "That's so incredibly sad.  I can't even imagine how that must feel."  That can start a decent conversation.  And if you've been that person who walked away without saying anything, well, it's not too late to go back and tell the griever, "I'm so sorry I walked away, I had no idea how to respond, but I just want to say I'm sorry you've had to go through all this."  Grieving parents are happy for any support they can getI don't think many of us hold grudges, so it's not too late to start over!

2.  Feel free to talk and ask questions about the deceased child.
"How did your child die?  What was his/her name? What was their personality like?" Please note, this is NOT to satisfy morbid curiosity (a parent can always tell) but to let the griever tell the story of their child.  I've heard it said that to most parents, their dead child's name is like music to their ears.  We WANT to talk about our child.  Heaven knows we talked about them while they were alive.  And suddenly, after they died, talk about them stopped as if they had ceased to exist (which they haven't.)

Don't worry that you will accidentally offend the griever in question by speaking about their child.  If you ask questions in a respectful, sensitive way, you can do a great deal of good.  If you knew their kid and have a nice story to share (emphasis on NICE, I've heard horror stories of bereaved parents being told of naughty things their kids did) then by all means, please share it.  If you cry or get teary-eyed when hearing the story of their child's passing, or by sharing a story about the child yourself, you get bonus points.  And if a grieving parent doesn't feel like talking about their bereavement at that moment, believe me, they'll let you know.  
3.  Ask how the grieving parents are doing.
Some people have told me that it's a little scary to ask a grieving person how they're doing as they don't want to bring up bad memories and make it worse for the person in question.  This is my answer to that— I have yet to be offended and/or hurt by someone who asked me how I was doing and sincerely wanted to know.  I always carry the wounds of losing Vincent in my heart, they are such a huge part of who I am that you don't need to be afraid that somehow asking that question will be a trigger for me to remember something bad and then feel worse.  I already remember all the bad things that happened. If you ask me these questions I'll then have someone with which to share the darkness.

And don't be afraid if the grieving parent cries while speaking about their child.  They're already crying on the inside.  Sometimes it's a big relief to have the permission to manifest it on the outside.

4.  Be a good listener.  
Part of being a good listener means engaging your heart and mind with the person speaking.  I mean, just think about it.  It's totally rude to ask a very deep personal question like "How are you doing?" if you only have a few minutes of talk time, or if you're in a large impersonal group of people.  Instead, say something like, "I really want to hear how you're doing.  Can we go out for coffee/cupcakes/a drink?"  (And you have to MEAN it!) Or you can call ahead and show up at their house with a meal. You could do this anytime from a few days after the death to a few years later.  You can also send online messages or little gifts in the mail.

Oh, and if you don't have time to adequately hear how the parent is doing, then don't ask. I'd rather you not ask me how I'm doing than be looking at your watch every minute as I attempt to explain.  That's really not cool.

5.  Keep the focus on the bereaved parent  
This is not the time to start talking about your dead aunt, grandma, cousin or pet. Nothing, that's right, nothing is the same as losing a child.  Psychologists put losing a child as the most stressful life event ever, right over losing a spouse.

If conversation with the grieving parent naturally evolves into talking about past losses and they show an interest in your story, then please share tastefully.  But don't use the occasion of the bereaved parent's loss to talk about your own, unless it is really similar or unless you and the grieving parent are connecting well.  You might have felt devastated when your pet mouse died, but really, it's not the same as losing a child.  Not to the grieving parent, at least.  (Quick side note:  I've received e-mail messages from people who've lost loved ones or encountered deep loss and none of these offended me in the slightest!  I'm talking about people who come up to you out of nowhere and start talking about their loss as soon as they've heard of yours.  I know I've done this before.  But it's not a good idea.)

6.  Resist the urge to "solve" their pain  
It can be easy at the end of the conversation with the grieving parent to want to "put a bow on it" basically wanting to neatly tie up the conversation.  People do this by using hurtful "solving" statements like "Well, God can make all things good in the end" or "At least he/she didn't suffer" or "Well, hopefully everything works out."

I think this happens because after delving into the world of the griever, acknowledging and conversing about their loss, asking good questions and being a mindful listener, you're emotionally exhausted.   As a comforter, you've shouldered a bit of the pain from the grieving parent, and now you want to give it back or dump it somewhere.  From my experience, this is where all the abominable dismissive one-liners are usually used.  People are now feeling a bit overwhelmed.  They want to make their life manageable again, and they do this by neatly "fixing" your pain for you.  "Well, at least they're in a better place" or "Maybe God was keeping you from something worse."

We grievers understand the need to find a quick exit from the painful world of child loss.  As much as we long for it, we know the only solution to our pain will be when we reunite with our children at the end of our lives.  For most of us, that's still a long time away.  Bereaved parents aren't on a day-trip pass into the chaotic world of grief.  We live there, all the time.  So believe me, we understand the need to distance yourself, to "solve" our pain, "fix" our anger and confusion.

Resist this urge and instead exit gracefully from the conversation.  Say something like "Thanks for sharing with me how you guys are doing, I'll be holding you and _____ (name of the child) in my heart"  or "I'm feeling overwhelmed by the amount of pain you deal with every day, I'll be praying for (or thinking of) you" or "I appreciate the trust you showed by sharing some of your grief with me." These are just a few ideas to wrap up the conversation while showing consideration for the griever. (You could also cry and give us a hug.  That works too.)

7.  Be honest
If you have not had the occasion to grieve deeply, or if you have no idea what to say, please feel free to say just that.  Be honest.  Most grievers don't know what to say or do either.  We're heartbroken, devastated, shocked, angry. We're in uncharted territory, and because of it we respond well to honesty, to people who say, "I want to help but I don't know what to do."  That's a wonderful, beautiful, and very constructive place to start. One of the best things our pastor did when Vincent was dying was to tell us that he felt helpless, unsure of how to help best, and wishing he could do more.  He is now one of my favorite pastors of all time because of that beautifully heartfelt message.

These are just a few ideas of what to say to a grieving parent, there are so many more. Fellow-bereaved-readers, what are your suggestions?  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What NOT to say to a grieving parent

It being over eight months since Vincent passed away, most people we know have already had the "condolence" conversation with us.  Overall, I've been impressed with people's empathy, love and thoughtfulness.  One particularly precious memory is of watching Vincent's video together with old friends.  Afterwards a classmate from high school (now a doctor) choked out a tearful impromptu a-capella version of "See."  Our hearts have been broken.  And many of our friends have entered into our sorrow with us. For that we are grateful.

There have been some well-meaning people, however, whose remarks were rather unhelpful, even hurtful.  I've found that when people DO say or write hurtful or un-helpful things, it's usually because they are not allowing your pain to enter their heart.  It's easier to hold someone else's sorrow at arms length where it can be easily dismissed, waved away, forgotten.  To truly empathize, you must be willing to hold the other person's hurt in your heart, letting their reality become real to you and opening your mind to the awfulness of their situation.

This is truly difficult, perhaps even impossible for some people, even when you are friends.  After all, who wants to imagine their own precious child slowly wasting away, eaten alive by cancerous tumors?  Who would want to imagine life without that same precious child?  These are thoughts too horrible to be borne, so people often close mind and heart and instead regurgitate little phrases they've heard without realizing their utter unhelpfulness.  (For us Christians there exists yet another category of people who are self-appointed God-protectors, determined to squelch any hint of disappointment with God.)

That quick vent aside, here is a list of the most common blunders we've experienced:

1.  "Your child is in a better place."
My internal response:  Well, I wish I was there with them.  Thanks for reminding me that I'm stuck in this crappiness for the rest of my life.  I'd rather they be with me, thank you very much.

2. "At least they're not suffering anymore" (or with sudden deaths - "at least they didn't suffer.")
My internal response: ....ummm, but I am.  And I wish they were still here.  Alive. Preferably not suffering, but at least alive, in my arms.  (Quick note:  Some awesome people have said this while simultaneously sobbing.  I'm totally OK with that.)

3.  "At least you still have your other child."  OR "At least you're still young."
ARGH!  Both of these really get my gander up.  Children are not expendable objects!  No kid can "make up" for the loss of another!  They're not like glasses that break and then are replaced.  Sure, I still have my other child.  That does NOT help me get over the loss of this one.  Can you imagine saying to a little kid who lost their mom that "at least you still have your dad/uncle/brother."  Can anyone replace a mom? Heck no!  And as for my age, yes, it's true I'm still "young."  That simply means I have more time here on earth to grieve the loss of Vincent.  Even if I had dozens of children, none of them would be him.

4.  "It could be worse."  (There are a lot of variations to this one, usually along the theme of "At least xyz didn't happen"  or "Maybe God was keeping you/him from a worse fate").
Yeah, heard a lot of this one, in all its glorious variations.  I don't find it helpful for several reasons. At the drop of a hat I can think of dozens of horrifyingly terrible situations, and someone could easily dismiss them by saying "it could be worse." The terrorist attack on 9/11 was bad, but it could have been worse, right?  Or it's evil what the LRA army in Uganda is doing to children, but it can always be worse, can't it?  That statement is just a dismissal of the awfulness of the situation because "it can always get worse." Ugh.  Not helpful.

And last time I checked, God doesn't have to kill you to give your life a good ending.  He IS altogether-goodness-itself, so most of us believe.  I don't for one second think he let Vincent die because it was the lesser of two evils.  Most people who say this didn't sit with Vincent week after week, watching the tumors steal his nutrition, take over his body, watching him shrink, thirsty, day after day until his heart stopped beating.  It wasn't a good death, but hey, I guess it could have been worse, right? (Side note:  It's totally alright if my husband says this.  But it's preferable not to hear it from anyone else.)

5.  "God's ways are perfect" (Similar to this would be "God makes no mistakes" and "God is always good.")  
Thankfully, I only heard this once but it was so awful I had to include it here.  Please don't use it. Ever.  It is not the job of a comforter to instruct on theology.  Last time I checked, it was Job's comforters who tried to use his tragedies to "teach" him right thinking.  God said he'd only forgive them for what they said if Job offered a sacrifice (which he did).   Honestly, I'm not so sure I would have been as quick to forgive as Job was!  Even Jesus in his hour of deepest need cried out to his father, "Why, why have you forsaken me?"

For the record, if someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one and asks you questions pertaining to faith and God, by all means, prayerfully answer them.  But don't use dismissive one-liners in hopes of comforting the griever.  It doesn't work.

6.  Say nothing at all
I am not referring in this point to individuals who, after crying with you and giving you a big hug, say nothing.  I am talking about people-you-know-pretty-well-but-haven't-seen-in-a-while that one day start talking to you like nothing ever happened.  This one is almost worse than the other five.  If I was standing in front of you with an amputated limb, blood gushing from the open wound, would you pretend nothing was wrong?  Would you talk about the weather or would you call 911 and get some kind of tourniquet on my stump? Come on folks, don't be immobilized by fear.  Just don't get caught uttering one of the five previous gaffes.  Tricky, I know.

OK, the rant is over now. My next post will be on what TO say to grieving parents.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Language, language

This morning Theo and I attended the tail end of a multi-family garage sale held at our old church.  Many of our friends were sellers there, and being generous people, tried to give us all their remaining merchandise.  I protested, repeatedly saying, "My husband will kill me if I bring home too much stuff."  Having just had a garage sale ourselves to slim down our belongings, I was hesitant to load up on more items we really don't need.

I didn't think anything of using this particular figure of speech until Theo pulled me aside and anxiously said, "Daddy would... kill you?"  Uh oh.  I guess I win the wonderful mom of the day award for thoroughly horrifying my 4 year old.  We had a short conversation on the use of language.

This episode got me examining the words I daily use, the figures of speech I employ. Theo really listens to what I and others have to say.  He asks me probing questions about conversations he's overheard between family members and friends.  He quotes me every day when he over-enthusiastically says--"That's a great idea!" (possibly my most over-used phrase EVER.)  Thankfully, as of yet he's not repeated the more unsavory words I sprinkle in from time to time.

I can no longer excuse my language with the "he can't understand what I'm saying" gambit I've used for years.  My little boy is growing up.  And I should too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

E.E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Monday, August 1, 2011


Saturday Dan I arrived home from a short outing to be greeted by a houseful of friends yelling "Surprise!"  Together we shared a lovely afternoon noshing on food, catching up, and laughing.  I found it deeply meaningful that all in once place I could see friends from different areas of my life— individuals from various churches, our cancer connection group, family members.

at the party Saturday...Theo and I are so sweaty!  

Did I mention I'm turning 30 today?  Well, I am.  I am glad to embark on a new decade, but am also fully cognizant that I will not be sharing this one with Vincent.  I knew him, held him, kissed him and nursed him when I was my twenties.  Last year on my birthday Vincent and I were sharing a hospital bed and recording videos of us playing together. That will never happen in this decadeor this life, for that matter.

my 29th birthday with Vincent
Turning 30 feels bittersweet (at this moment, rather bitter) but Saturday while talking with friends, eating, drinking and opening presents, it was pretty sweet.  Thanks to all of you who sent messages, prayed for me, and/or e-mailed.  You rock! (Can I still say that now I've hit the semi-big 3-0?)