Solving the Problem of Grief: The Solution Is Not What You Think

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

This is a great article. Grief is NOT a problem needing to be “fixed,” something that any person who has every truly experienced a great loss can understand.

Originally posted on Natasha's Memory Garden:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devine/death-and-dying_b_4606150.html

By Megan Devine

Posted: 01/23/2014 5:51 pm

Solving the problem of grief is a problem in itself: if the ways you are broken cannot possibly be fixed, why does everyone keep giving you solutions?

Before my partner died, I was reading There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Dr. Wayne Dyer. It’s a great book. When I tried to pick it up after Matt died, though, I couldn’t get back into it. It just kept feeling wrong, like there was a burr inside the words that scratched uncomfortably. I kept trying to find comfort in the words I found comforting and helpful before, and those words were just not doing it.

I put the book down. I picked it back up. The burr rasped and the words didn’t fit, and I put the book back down.

It was several weeks later when my eye happened to catch…

View original 963 more words

The Art of Presence – New York Times Article

This is another great article about helping those who grieve. There can never be enough written about “how to help.”

I thought the point made that it’s important to realize that some people may be firefighters and some may be builders was interesting:

Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.

My hope and prayer is that bereaved parents have enough kind, caring people in their lives who are capable of performing both roles for the long haul. It’s so important.

Link to article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/opinion/brooks-the-art-of-presence.html?_r=2

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

A Crisis of Faith

As most people know, it’s not uncommon for a parent to have a crisis of faith following the death of his or her child.

What is a crisis of faith? One definition is “periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs*”. The key words here are “intense doubt” and “preconceived beliefs.” Basically, it’s when we thought we knew something for certain (or perhaps took something for granted) in the realm of our faith in God (what we “see” with our spiritual eyes or experience and understand in our spiritual lives or believe to be true in the spiritual realm); but when it differs so drastically from what is the reality of our lives (what we “see” with our physical eyes or experience in our physical world), we question everything we believed. Our preconceived beliefs don’t jive with what we’ve just experienced. Trying to reconcile the two opposing concepts when they are at extreme odds with each other can lead to a crisis of faith.

One of the things I miss most since Jason died (besides Jason and my life as I knew it before my world was shattered) is my unquestioning faith in God. I remember times when my heart was so full with love for God that I thought it would burst. I don’t feel that way any more, at least for now. I remember standing by the cassette player (yes, cassette player) with my eyes closed, singing my pledge of devotion to God along with Andrea Crouch or Clay Crosse. I remember being so moved by a song as I sang in the choir that I could hardly get the words out. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15) was my anthem. I would have died for my faith, for God.

But what happens when it’s not you who are “slayed” and it’s your child who dies? What happens when you have to face life without your child, when you have to figure out how to go on living without your child? Then it’s not quite so easy to say, is it? I doubt that there isn’t one parent whose child died that gladly wouldn’t have taken his or her child’s place. I would much rather take the brunt of something awful FOR my children than it happen TO any of them. I would gladly have died in Jason’s place.

There are parents who seem to find a “greater good” or a “higher purpose” or find solace that God is in control of their child’s death. I just haven’t been able to do that. I woke up nearly every night, went downstairs to kneel in front of the couch and pray for my family, for my kids and their friends. I prayed with all my heart and all my being for my kids’ lives and their protection. And still Jason died. And still our family has had to walk through so many hard things, just a fraction of which I would tell most people. How do I reconcile those two?

I have had a crisis of faith. Does that mean I don’t believe in God? No. It just means it seems that what I thought I knew about God wasn’t accurate. It means that what I thought God would “do” for me, He wouldn’t or didn’t do. I thought that if I prayed for my kids that they would be protected. I thought that if I served God with all my heart and tried to do the right things God would make things right for me. I believed that God heard my fervent prayers, that my prayers “availed much” (James 5:16) in the kingdom of heaven and on earth, and that God answered my prayers. I believed God protected my family. I guess I sort of saw God like my own personal genie who could grant me whatever wish I wished for if I wished hard enough for it. That’s not faith; that’s wishful thinking.

Right after Jason died, I remember praying and praying that God would make something good come out of Jason’s death. I didn’t want Jason’s life and death to be for nothing. Both my husband and I felt, from the moment Jason was born, that God had great plans for his life. We felt that he was to do something great for God. And then God didn’t protect Jason and he died. After he died, I prayed that Jason’s life would be like a pebble dropped in a pond, that the ripples of his precious life would be like concentric rings and reach far and wide. Surely, there had to be more to Jason’s life and his living than he would die at the age of 19 before he barely was into adulthood. Surely, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28),” don’t they? I guess I’m still looking for the “good” to come out of Jason’s death, as I can’t say that I’ve seen it yet.

I felt God’s presence incredibly close after Jason died. I felt the prayers of people who knew us, lifting us up before the Most High. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God wasn’t paying attention any more, that He really didn’t care about the anguish we were going through. Somewhere along the line, I felt like God had abandoned us. I felt like the heavens were brass and my prayers weren’t even reaching the ceiling. I felt that people were no longer praying for us. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God’s people didn’t care so much any more. God’s people abandoned us.

Honestly, I have to say that being left so alone by nearly everyone we knew added exponentially to my crisis of faith. Who were most of the people we knew? Christians. People in the church. People we had served and had served with in the church and homeschool community. Christian people I thought of as friends, as extended family since our own families were more than halfway across the country. I thought of Christian people as extensions as the hands and feet of God. I looked to them for support; I expected them to be there for us. Not only did God seem so very far away, out of reach and uncaring, so did nearly everyone else we knew. When you’re hurting so badly, it’s easy to confuse God, the church, and God’s people. It seemed that not only had God let us down and left us alone, so had His people.

I know I have beat this drum a lot in writing my blog – “we were alone, we were alone, nearly everyone left us.” “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms,” right? If that’s what you think, you’re missing the point. Many bereaved parents feel so very alone at the time they most need support. Many bereaved parents ARE left alone at the time they most need support, kindness, hugs, and an ongoing expression of God’s love. We ARE the hands and feet of God on this earth. We need to remember that.

I wrote in an earlier post about reading and relating to the Book of Job. Job suffered great losses. His “friends” came by to “comfort” him – more like confront him – in his grief. They accused him of sinning. He felt deserted by God, his friends and his family. He didn’t understand why God was doing this to him. God had been good to him, and now he felt like God was punishing him for something he didn’t do. He didn’t understand. He had a crisis of faith.

Is a crisis of faith a sin? No. It’s an opportunity to grow. It’s an opportunity to look carefully at what we believed and what we thought we knew, throwing out the wrong while trying to find the right. It’s an opportunity to learn that our ways aren’t God’s ways, as hard as that may be to accept or understand. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that now we “see through a dark glass (I Cor. 13:12).” It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that we walk by faith, not by sight. We don’t know it all. All we know is what we can see with our finite eyes, and all we can understand is what our finite mind can comprehend. The rest has to be taken on faith.

I still struggle greatly with my faith. I still have more questions than answers. I feel like my faith is so small, and my ability to believe and trust in a God that seems to have let me down is small. I no longer see “the church” as a source of comfort or a source of friendship and support. I have very little desire to attend church. I need God to answer prayers for me right now. I need to see that he hears me and cares for the struggles my family and I are going through. I hope that He hears me more than I have an assurance that He hears me. I am worse for wear.

But, I know that this isn’t the end of it. I pray, though not with the fervency and unquestioning devotion as I once did. I try to water that root of faith I have had since I was a child. I know that root of faith goes deep, although most of the above-ground, visible manifestation of my faith may have been pruned. More often than not, in my prayers I remind God, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” I remind myself of what I know for certain. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe Jason is in heaven with his hands lifted in praise to the Most High, even as he was the Sunday before he died. I know that the grave was not Jason’s final destination. I know I will see him again. I know that someday I will join Jason before the throne of God, and then I understand. And that’s as good a place to start as any.

For further reading on Job, I recommend this post: The Trial of Job.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_of_faith

http://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/the-question-of-faith/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Falling Trees and Such

As I lay in bed this morning listening to the wind whip through the trees on this blustery and wintery day, I realized I was wondering if one of them would fall on the house…and hoping and praying one would not. Once you have a tree fall on your house, you can’t help but wonder whether it will happen again.

On January 20, 1993, Western Washington State experienced what became known as “infamous Inaugural Day Windstorm.” As Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, we in the Seattle area had other things on our minds.

It was a typical homeschooling day in the Carney household, although one where we were getting a slower start than normal that morning. Eric was having a hard time getting out of bed, preferring to snuggle down under the covers on that blustery morning. Joe had gone to work as usual, crossing the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington to his job in downtown Seattle. The rest of us were just puttering around the house.

Around 9:00 a.m., we heard part of a tree fall from our neighbor’s yard onto the fence that divided our properties in the back. Jason and Jenna climbed up on the kitchen counter to look out the window, as I stood behind them surveying the damage.

As we looked out the window at the damaged fence, something else very startling caught my attention. It looked to me like the big fir tree about 15-20 feet away from the kitchen window in our backyard was dancing. It sort of slowly lifted up and twirled to the right, settled back down, and then slowly lifted up and twirled to the left. It literally looked like it was dancing a slow ballet. It was an amazing sight to see.

Now, this was no ordinary fir tree. As it grew, it had split fairly low so that it had two trunks going at least 60 feet or so into the air. It was a big tree!! The trunks were situated so that one was toward the house and one away from the house.

All of a sudden, I realized the tree was no longer dancing, it was falling right toward the house…right toward the kitchen window we were looking out. I grabbed Jason and Jenna off the counter and turned to run. By the time I got to the kitchen doorway, it was all over.

Thankfully, the tree turned as it fell so that one trunk landed on the roof to the right of us and one landed on the roof to the left of us. The top of one on the left snapped off from the impact of hitting the house, and it whipped back in through the window over the front door to the house and a branch went through the front door.

There were several things that saved us that day. We weren’t at the dining room table where we normally would have been. Eric was still cozy in his bed and the rest of us were watching the storm out the kitchen window – just in time to run as the tree fell. If the tree had not turned as it fell, it would have landed with both trunks right on top of us, of that I have no doubt. If we had been closer to the front door or going down the stairs to the basement, we could have been hit by the treetop coming through the window above the door or by the shattering glass. Also, our landlord just recently (finally!!) had re-roofed the house, replacing any damaged wood. Being an older house, it had fairly thick and solid joists which gave it more strength to absorb some of the impact of the falling tree. Because the trunk of the tree split, the weight of the tree was divided between the two trunks. The larger, heavier trunk came through the roof above the dining room table right where the kids would have been doing their schoolwork on any other day, and the smaller trunk landed halfway across the length of the house above the front door (causing damage to the plumbing tree of the house, front window above the door, and the door) but didn’t come all the way through the roof.

I called Joe at work, asking him to come home right away because a tree had fallen on the house. He made it back across the I-90 floating bridge just before they closed it because of the wind. I called our landlord and had a hard time convincing him that a tree had actually fallen on the house (one I had tried to get him to cut down) and that the damage was more than something his aging father could climb up on the roof and fix. (Our landlord was something else, I must say!)

The city where we lived sustained the greatest number of damaged homes per capita in the area. Many, many other houses were damaged or destroyed throughout the area. Winds in some areas reached that of a category 1 hurricane. Buildings downtown Seattle swayed in the wind, making people nauseous. Power was out for days. Six people died and many others injured. But, none of us were hurt, just very shaken. I am so very thankful.

The house was so damaged that we had to pack everything up and move it into storage. We had people just show up to help us pack up our entire household in one day. Everything went into storage and stayed there (for months) as we looked for a house to buy. That’s another story.

Anyway, one of the first things I made sure was that all of the close-in trees at our next house were cleared. I couldn’t sleep when it was windy until I felt fairly certain we were out of reach of most potentially-falling trees.

The moral of this story is that you don’t ever forget traumatic events or tragedies. They are imprinted on your life. They become a part of who you are. Your heart doesn’t forget.

We now live in a house with trees close by, and I find that it makes me nervous when the wind howls through the trees as it is today. I don’t so much worry about myself being hurt; I worry about the ones I love. In my ignorance before the tree fell on our house, I knew that trees fell in high winds. I just never imagined one would fall on us. In my ignorance before Jason died, I knew that tragedy strikes families and children die. I just never imagined it would be us. Once you experience a great tragedy or a traumatic event, you never forget that you are not immune. Time passes, but certain things can take you back to that moment when you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not immune from tragedies or traumatic events. None of us are immune.

I am so thankful none of us were hurt that day the tree fell on our home. I am so thankful for the people who rallied around us to help us pack up and move everything we owned in a single day. I am thankful for the people who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a house to buy.

But, I still don’t understand why God protected us that day the tree fell on our house (and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that He did then and many other times), but He didn’t protect Jason from being hit by a drunk driver on March 3rd, 2002. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection for my kids. I feel like sometimes they were protected from danger or harm and sometimes they weren’t. We invested in the lives of others. Sometimes that investment returned to us and sometimes it didn’t. I don’t understand why people we counted on left us so very alone after Jason died. Protection and support one time; no protection and no support another. An exponentially greater tragedy; exponentially less support.

Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Things happen, and I don’t understand why. I know that I now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There are so many things I don’t understand. Someday I hope I will.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Holiday Grief Support Resource Link

With the holidays quickly approaching, I would just like to share this link that lists some helpful suggestions concerning grief and the holidays: http://ididnotknowwhattosay.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/holiday-grief-support-resources-2/ This site contains suggestions for those who have lost someone close, as well as suggestions for those who would like to support someone who has lost a loved one.

There is no “magic pill” that will make the holidays easier to navigate nor any article that will provide all the answers to handling grief during any and all occasions. Grief isn’t a “one size fits all” thing, and neither are suggestions for walking through grief during any particular period of time or occasion. There isn’t anything that will take away the deep grief of the loss of a loved one, but perhaps there are suggestions on this link that will help in some way during this holiday season.

Becky

Caution: Cliche Ahead

I would venture to say that most bereaved parents tend to be a little sensitive when it comes to cliches and platitudes concerning grief. I know that I am. I try to remind myself, though, that I probably was once one who thought cliches and platitudes were just hunky-dory. I’m sure I thought I was being a help and an encouragement when I told someone to look on the sunny side of life.

I grew up that way. I grew up singing songs that told me, “With Christ in the vessel I can smile at the storm” and “When there’s a rainbow in the sky, the clouds of frown go smiling by.” I was reminded by bumper stickers to “Smile. God loves you.” I grew up feeling that, no matter what I was going through, I had to act and look like everything was okay. If I put a smile on and acted like everything was okay, eventually it would be okay.

Now, I’m all for a good attitude in life and toward life. I think that’s healthy. The “Eeyore’s” in our lives can pull us down after a while. A general Eeyore attitude all the time can put people off. But, I think there’s a difference between having a constant pessimistic attitude and honestly, truly grieving.

People (and I include myself in this) can be really good at the cliches, I think, especially when confronted with difficult situations (such as the death of a child) or when we don’t know what to say. Break out the platitude or “encouraging” Bible verse, slap it on the situation, and it will make everything okay. If the person to whom the cliche is given doesn’t “get” it, that’s their problem, their lack of understanding, their lack of faith.

I ran across a blog a while back that had a picture of an old box and contained the following text underneath the picture:

Carrying something like this around? A box weighted with grief, or resentment, regret, or pain. The best thing to do is LEAVE IT AT THE CROSS. Bring that box to Christ, He’s waiting patiently at baggage claim…. http://mindlesspeace.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/baggage/

Now, I know there are things it’s better we just let go. That being said, I have to say, as a bereaved parent whose walk through grief has been long and hard, I struggled with the concept presented in this post. Do people honestly think that it is really that simple to deal with grief following the death of a child? Was that all I needed to do – lay down my grief at the cross – and all my pain would be “claimed” by Christ? No, of course, it’s not. That’s not even realistic. To me, such cliches are akin to putting a little Hello Kitty band-aid on a huge, gaping wound.

It also makes me wonder if the person who is espouses such cliches really thinks that’s the way it “should” happen. It implies that the person who has grief, resentment, regret or pain isn’t a good enough Christian or isn’t dealing correctly with these issues from a Christian point of view – according to the person who espouse such cliches. To an unseasoned griever, it additionally puts a boatload of guilt on him/her about what s/he “should” be doing. I don’t think that’s fair. We need to check those “should’s” at the door!

The Bible says that God near to those who are brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18). The Bible says that God collects my tears and records them in His book (Psalms 56:8). The Bible says that God is with us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4). There are many verses that talk about God meeting us where we are in the midst of our struggles. I don’t remember one about checking my baggage of grief at the door.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month

“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.”

Ronald Reagan

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in October of 1988. Canada and Australia have also recognized October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. In his 1988 proclamation, President Reagan said that the purpose of this specific designation was “to increase our understanding of the great tragedy involved in the deaths of unborn and newborn babies. It also enables us to consider how, as individuals and communities, we can meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members and work to prevent causes of these problems.” He then “call(ed) upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”

In 2006, the House of Representatives passed a resolution designation October 15th as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a “day when all grieving parents could come together and be surrounded by love and support from their friends and families, a day where the community could better understand their pain and learn how to reach out to those grieving.” (http://www.october15th.com)

October is also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Susan G. Komen foundation has done a phenomenal job in raising breast cancer awareness around the world! This organization has done a great job since its inception in 1982. My grandmother and mother-in-law both had breast cancer, so I applaud the Komen foundation for its work.

IMG_0567“Pink” is everywhere during October and in so many innovative ways. One year, my husband, sister, and I participated in BMW’s Ultimate Drive to Cure Breast Cancer. BMW donated $1 for each mile a new car was test-driven. Driven by local volunteers, a fleet of new BMW cars made its way across the United States from dealer to dealer to promote the Ultimate Drive, and we drove cars from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. I got to drive the lead car as the rest of the cars followed me for the hour-and-a-half drive, and I was proud to be a part of the event to raise awareness. We see “pink” awareness everywhere. Every NFL football team – including big, tough football players, coaches, refs, and many others – sports everything from pink shoes to pink hats to pink towels. Websites go pink. Clothing lines put out “pink” items. Runs, walks, drives – it’s amazing to see so much support!

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is also a very high-profile, successful, and well-run organization with huge national awareness and great support. Once again, I think the work they do is incredibly valuable and worthwhile. There are many others whose work is incredibly valuable and worthwhile.

But, as a mother who lost a baby at 19 weeks gestation and another child to a drunk driver, I can’t help but wonder how one cause receives so much more support and visibility than another. It’s not that I begrudge either the Komen or the Make-A-Wish foundation their support or successes. I don’t. I wish them all the best!! Finding a cure for ANY kind of cancer would be awesome! Giving a sick child hope or a dream come true is an incredible gift. I guess I’m a trying to figure out how and why people galvanize behind one cause but ignore another.

I do have an theory, though. My theory is that it’s easier to focus on hope than loss. Even though there are people who die from breast cancer and there are children who do not survive their illnesses, the Komen and Make-A-Wish foundations focus on surviving and hope. Hope for a cure for cancer. Raising money to find a cure for cancer. Focus on survivors of breast cancer. Hope for a child to continue fighting his or her illness. Giving a child a dream he or she may not be able to achieve without the foundation’s help. Although bereaved parents are talked about in terms of “surviving the death of a child,” we are learning how to survive the death of our child. Our child is gone. There is no hope of bringing our child back. We have to figure out how to live our lives without them. We have to figure out how to find “strength for today and…hope for tomorrow.” Even though child loss awareness was promoted way back in 1988 by the leader of our country, it seems as though it’s an often overlooked or unmentioned topic.

I remember when we lost our baby in 1987, nobody said anything at all to me about it. Our pastor announced from the pulpit that we had lost a baby, but that was it. It wasn’t discussed. At 19 weeks, our baby was nearly halfway to due date, but it was as if nothing had happened or that it didn’t matter. I remember feeling like it was a very black year for me. We lost the baby the end of January 1987, my dad’s health declined to the point that we had to put him in a nursing home in August 1987, and then he died the beginning of February 1988. Later that year I helped my mom go through all of my dad’s things. I felt like I just had to keep going on as if nothing had happened, but it was an awful time for me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt that way.

How do we promote more awareness for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month? How do we promote awareness for what it’s like to have lost a child – whether through miscarriage, SIDS, accident, or natural causes – and the difficult and often misunderstood walk that follows? How do we promote realistic understanding and unwavering compassion for bereaved parents and their families? How are individuals and communities to consider – as President Reagan said – “how…(to) meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members and work to prevent causes of these problems…”?

I don’t see press coverage for any ceremonies of support for bereaved parents. I know that some hospitals sponsor programs and some churches have a ceremony, but generally I don’t hear a lot about the topic of the death of a child. There are books written on the topic and organizations that support the bereaved, but I don’t see a national awareness. Yes, there is the Compassionate Friends and other organizations, but these are targeted to people who have lost a child. Do people read books on child loss or seek out organizations that talk about dealing with the death of a child unless they personally are the one who has lost a child or know someone who has? I know it’s not an easy topic to think or talk about, but does that mean it’s not important to discuss or that it’s not just as important about which to raise awareness? Does that mean we, as bereaved parents, should continue to “buck up” or mask our grief and struggles on this sometimes very lonely and misunderstood walk? I just think it’s something people don’t like to talk about, and I think there is still a huge gap in understanding what it’s like to lose a child and what helps or doesn’t help.

So, as October comes to a close, my question is this: How many “appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities” have you seen or been aware of? Would you say that President Reagan’s proclamation and the House of Representative’s resolution has helped to raise awareness and support for bereaved parents? What do you think? What’s your input on this? Just thinking aloud on this chilly Saturday morning. Would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and what you have to say…

Becky

Great articles in a similar vein:

http://ouradoptionfaithwalk.blogspot.com/2012/10/why-it-matters-to-have-day-of.html

http://oca.org/resource-handbook/familylife/october-pregnancy-and-infant-loss-awareness-month

http://www.stillbirthalliance.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=3&link_id=67

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney