These are words I wrote and shared many years ago, but the feelings return each and every year. This year is feeling like another heavy year as we transition to senior year, freshmen year, and 5th grade (last year of elementary school). I am thinking of every single bereaved parent as they send their children back to school or as they remember and soak in what grade their babies would be in today. The start of school is FILLED with triggers. It. IS. HARD. As we enter this time, lean on your Sweet Grace family, find your “safe” people, and do what YOUR heart needs until it is beating back in rhythm again. Sending so much love to all.
I have spent a lot of time in prayer and in thought the last few weeks. Not gonna lie, its been a mess of a few weeks and God and I have been spending a lot of time together. I have been weepy, on edge, in a fog…. I have spent time “unpacking” why my heart is so heavy and why it aches each year as I send my kiddos back to school…why this year it has ached in a way that I can’t describe.
I have learned that I learn or figure out much of my “issues” by speaking them out loud. Sitting with one of my “safe people” and answering the questions like, “what is really bothering you” or “what is the deep down, pit of your belly issue” can unravel so much. As I answer out loud and speak the things that are aching, the triggers come flying out. Oh there it is. All the stuff that I try to push down comes out in the speaking. Grief is messy. Grief doesn’t makes sense or fit into a chart or box. We don’t know why certain things hit us until we connect the dots. Often you have no clue that grief is causing so much turmoil in your life until you unpack it and listen my friends, we all know that unpacking.isn’t.fun. It is work and it takes time.
Tomorrow I will send my sweet, cuddly, smallest baby girl to kindergarten. I will send her to a school that I love and trust and that is filled with educators that I adore. They have cared for our bigger kiddos wonderfully and I don’t doubt that they will love my teeny tiny just as well. But you see that isn’t really my issue and it isn’t fully about me being on my own even though THAT my friends, is certainly part of my ache. 12 years have been spent with a little person at my side every day…tomorrow starts a new phase in life and I know God is walking each step with me. But every year I struggle (this one just aches a little more).
For me, what is triggered from the start of school, is the deep, deep pain in the act of handing over my child (any of them) and the the reminder of one who is missing. Just writing those words brings the tears and the lumps up into my throat. Friends I have handed over a child that I never got back. I have handed over a child that I desperately sought to hold on to and couldn’t. Every act of a “handing over” is an unpacking of a deep trigger for me. It hurts like nothing else I can describe. Its a constant, horrible feeling until I can do the handing over many times and even then I still struggle. In the past few weeks many have attempted to “fix me”, encourage my heart, and make it better and I trust me when I say that I am so grateful for the love but in some ways those encouragers have shared statements that I have tried to avoid every year for 9 years as school begins. The last few weeks has made me realize that each school year is another dagger to the heart because we are only sending 3…not 4. Why these things coming coming out now? Who knows. But it has spurred me to share my heart as I am confidant that I am not the only loss momma who is struggling in this way and if you are reading this as a friend or family member of a loss parent, I pray this is helpful for you as you support them.
*”You will have all this time to yourself”, it will be great they say…and maybe in some ways it will. But grieving parents often struggle with silence and struggle with being on their own. Things that happen when school returns. In the silence is when the tears flow, in the silence is when all the unpacking happens and its hard. Hard is good but hard isn’t fun. As a loss momma I thrive on snuggles and walks with my littles, with noise and chaos. I know that God has plans for me in this time of life, I know that He won’t leave me on my own as I begin this new journey but I also know that I am going to be clinging on to Him with everything I have. I know that I will have to be open to His voice and teaching during the quiet and I know that it means letting go of control. Oh what a mess I am…what a mess we are. I am so grateful that He loves us through our messes….right where we are.
*”We will take good care of them.” or “They will take good care of them.” This sounds lovely right? But guess what? Often this is a phrase that nurses use when taking away a child who has passed for the final time. In that moment it gives incredible peace to the parents knowing that their sweet child will have someone to care of them in their absence. After this moment, this phrase can be gut wrenching. This phrase being used during school “hand overs” does nothing more than unpack grief. I have heard it already and I have felt it. I get it mommas. I heard the nurse saying it then and I have heard the masses saying it this week. We know our kiddos will be taken care of and I know we are so grateful for that. But that statement breaks me into a million pieces and I am praying for all of you that are feeling that too. A great option that I have shared with dear friends is, “they are going to have a great time” or they are going to learn so much” or “we will call you if we need to”, etc. These statements are encouraging to both mind and heart alike.
*”They’ll be back.”. If you know me, you know I am not a quickly angered person but I know dear friends who have heard this and had to do the silent count, “1, 2, 3, 4,…” and take a step away. Deep breath mommas, please don’t hurt someone even though I know those emotions are raging. I have a really hard time biting my lip here and trust me when I say that I have fell on the floor laughing at the responses of some of our dearest Sweet Grace mommas…laughter that can only be shared with your loss sisters who get it. This statement is one that can make someone’s head explode and heart fill with such deep ache. After the loss of a child, the realty that life is fragile, nothing is guaranteed, is always on a parent’s heart. You see, my child didn’t return and that is stuck in my heart until we are reunited in heaven. Does this mean I hide in my house in fear? Not most days. But I have walked and probably will walk with families that are in that spot and it is way more normal grief response than you may know or think. For me, I strive hard to allow our kiddos to try every sport, every roller coaster (yep even those crazy things), games, rides, sleepovers, etc. They probably won’t tell you that they are deprived of activities. They probably will tell you that momma likes to watch close by…REALLY close by–truth :). I soak in each day given as I know how precious this time is. Just a wave, a goodbye, and an “I love you” is way sweeter for my heart than a “they’ll be back” from a caregiver or friend. I don’t want to promise my heart that….I can’t.
*Two of my children have struggled with separating from momma. I have struggled with separating from all of them. Two of them screamed in preschool, nursery, babysitters, etc. Handing off a screaming child can be gut wrenching for anyone… I know this. But it can be especially filled with hurt and guilt for a bereaved parent. Often a loss momma or dad feels like they shouldn’t even hand over the screaming child as they never got the opportunity to comfort their child in heaven. Its this crazy, confusing life of guilt, exhaustion, grief, joy, and confusion. There is also nothing greater for a bereaved parent than consoling their sweet love. I know so many parents who will rock kids till they are 10… ok maybe 4 🙂 just because they are savoring every moment they didn’t get with their child in heaven. Passing off that time is so hard. If you are a teacher or a caregiver, let the parents take the lead here. Let them hand the kiddos over, let them figure out the timing and the way that is best. I know, I know, there are protocols and rules about how to settle a child into school but listen friends, we can throw those out the window every now and then and truly look people in the eyes and see what they are walking in with. I have left screaming children and wept deeply….and grief surfaces in big ways in these moments. There is way more to unpack in this issue than what is witnessed on the surface. Choose to truly SEE the people in front of you and what they are carrying. It makes such a difference in the lives of grieving parents.
*Every milestone is so so poignant. This is so true for parents who have other children before loss, who have other children after loss, or who never go onto to conceive again. If you ask a bereaved parent how old their child would be or what grade they would be going into… THEY. WILL.KNOW. First day pictures are wonderful but they are also filled with pain for those who know that they should have a kindergarten kiddo or a high schooler. They are painful because they are a reminder of what they are missing and what could have been. The start of the school year is one of the hardest time for our loss families. I am more aware of time than I think I ever could be because of Cicely’s life and death. And that is not necessarily a wonderful gift.
While I really strive to be ME and not look at everyone around me, it is hard to see all the smiles, the joy and realize that I can’t keep it together. Sometimes I feel like an Olympic swimmer, smacking my face, my head, my chest…., c’mon woman KEEP IT TOGETHER for just a MINUTE and jump in that water. But it is in these times when I can’t keep it together that God reminds me of this beautiful gift called grace… and this beautiful family He has grown from grace that meets each other just as we are. Every Sweet Grace momma is struggling as school starts in different ways. I adore the Francesca Battistelli song, “bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine, cause love can heal what hurt divides, and mercy’s waiting on the other side..if we’re honest”. As you pass families clothes shopping, as you are packing lunches, as you are loading book bags and putting sweet kiddos on the bus… remember that there are hearts who are barely making it. Remember that a milestone for some is a milestone missed for others. Remember that even in the happiest of moments, grief can take over and it is ok for them to cry it out…walk it out… hide it out. Remember to check in and tell them you care, that you love them, that you know this time of year is hard, and that you remember….remembering means more than you will ever know.