5 Things Not to Say When Talking With a Child About Death

How does one go about choosing an outfit to wear to the funeral of someone they love knowing that going forward it will be thought of as, “The outfit I wore to the funeral.”?

While staring blankly into my closet full of more than enough clothes to wear, a little voice from behind me said, ”Mommy, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to decide what to wear to the service for Uncle Buddy tomorrow.”
“Oh...” [long pause] “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes…right now, in this moment…I’m okay.” I replied.
“Alright. I’m going to play in the fort. Call me if you need me.” he said, skipping out of the room.

“Call him if I need him…” I said to myself smiling.
He’s 9 and I’m convinced he has a better grasp on everything than I do.

As I turn back to the plethora of clothing, the silence falls heavily.

I take some options from the hangers and fold them into my suitcase, careful to lay a few things out so that I can slip into them as quietly as possible after my 4:00 a.m. alarm alerts me to the beginning of this journey into grief.

Two days ago, after receiving the call that my uncle had laid his head back to rest, falling asleep one last time, it began a slew of conversations. The kind that take time and intentional thought. The ones that include long pauses and deep sighs. Are you familiar with these kinds of conversations?

I’m going to skip a ton of detail and get to the point as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we don’t understand why we are in certain seasons of life and why we are walking through things that seem far from what we had planned. And then one day, if we pay attention, we get a glimpse of the answer.

I have learned so much from the families who have welcomed me alongside them while they are experiencing loss. Being a witness to someone else’s pain is difficult to describe. To say that it puts things into perspective is much too basic. It has reshaped the way I see the world and now feel the reality that everyone lives and will one day die.

I am being taught how to navigate difficult conversations with my own children about death without being afraid. Out of all the many words and spoken thoughts we have shared, here are words and phrases I’ve learned not to use.

“He passed away.” Children are literal. We adults have a hard time saying the words, “He died.” We want to cushion the news. Don’t. This only confuses a child. When Jesus said that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, I’m beginning to understand what he meant. Their eyes have not been clouded. They are still able to see things as they truly are.

“We lost him.” Again, children are literal and will question, “If we lost him, we will be able to find him.”

“He’s in a better place.” They will want to know why they can’t be there too if it’s a better place. And why would we be left behind instead of going with him?

“It’s okay.” It’s not okay. It’s sad and the grieving process may not have even begun due to the shock of losing someone suddenly. It will be okay, but for now, it’s sad and we should experience the sadness and grieve the loss. Remember that grief is unpredictable. It comes at the most inopportune times. Be prepared to react to things much differently for a time.

“We aren’t going to talk about it.” They want to talk about it. They want to share memories and tell stories. It is counterproductive not to let them express their emotions and thoughts. Of the many people I have talked with after the loss of someone close to them, the thing I hear repeatedly is, “I wish people weren’t afraid to talk about him. I want to keep his memory alive and the best way to do that is by sharing stories about him.” 

I don’t know this for sure, but maybe children intuitively know how to process grief much better than we adults do? I want to be open to change and continually learning. Who knew that some of my best teachers would be the smallest people in my home?Boys in sunlight

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day.
17 You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. 18 So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.

I’m sure you have many things to add to my five. What are they? Let’s ease each other’s burdens, even if only through the comments on this page. You never know how far your hope is reaching.

To The One Looking For A Second Chance…

JCP-A piece of earth drenched in the splendor of HeavenMaybe you don’t even realize that’s what you’re looking for?
Maybe you’re searching for a way out of your current circumstances?
Maybe you’re longing for someone to look at you, truly seeing you for the first time, and say, “I know. I’ve been there. I’ve walked in those same shoes and I made the single choice to step off the crazy train.”?

Maybe you think you’re beyond a second chance?  Sweet friend, no one, created in the image of God, (and that’s all of us), is ever beyond a second chance. No one. You are worth saving.

There is life to be lived.
There is beauty to be had.
There is light to be shared.

However, it will not work in isolation.

~ To read the rest of this post, please join me with the community of “People of The Second Chance” by CLICKING HERE

To the One Who Loves an Alcoholic

There is someone in my life who I adore. I love her so much that my insides ache when she’s hurting. Unfortunately she is in love with an alcoholic. And as some of you reading this have experienced…we are capable of causing the worst kind of pain. 

Looking back over more than a decade in recovery, free from alcohol and all it brings with it, there are things that I know to be true. Things I can see now that I couldn’t see before. Things that just, are, no matter how much I wish they weren’t.

So, I wrote her this letter and now I’m sharing it with you.
Not to provide all the answers for what you’re going through, but to hopefully shed some light on the person whom you have continually given the ability to hurt your heart.

I will be removing any personal information with generic wording and adding quotes so that you can insert the name of your person.

Friend,” this is truth…

He” is married to alcohol. Drugs are his mistress. Anything else…anyone else, is just a side thing. He always returns to what he knows. Alcohol.

It’s one of the most difficult relationships to sever. It can be done, but it takes more work than most people are willing to put in.

It’s not you.

Truly. It isn’t.

It’s that cunning, baffling bitch known as alcoholism. And without a Higher Power, complete Surrender, and the Willingness to change by dying to self, there is no hope.

You’ve laid awake countless nights, bartering with God.
Your bartering has turned to begging.
Your begging has turned to weeping.
Your weeping has turned to exhaustion.
And just when you’re about to give up…there he comes…back in the picture…full of empty promises that you want so badly to be true.
And the vicious cycle starts all over again.

This has gone on for years.
You say things like, “…but I love him! When you really love someone, you don’t just give up on them.
That may be true, but…
as a human being, a beautiful child of God, born with great purpose, you must see the wasted moments on this person who is blissfully unaware of your worth.

You don’t, do you?
You can’t.
Something in you, like in all of us, grasps on to the smallest ounce of hope and we refer back to that speck even when we are surrounded by the mountains of proof that say otherwise.

This is where I have done my share of begging God.
For reasons unknown to me, He hasn’t lifted the blinder that covers your eyes.
I know He can.
I know He wants you to be whole and live in the light of His glory and grace.
And yet knowing this, doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

There is a reason why so many alcoholics lose their battle with alcohol, at times taking entire families down with them.
Like the blinder you wear, he too wears a self-inflicted blinder.
The difference in yours and his is that he can remove his at any time.
All if takes to begin is a choice to change.
One choice can change everything.
After that one choice is when the real work begins.
I can’t even call it rebuilding. That can’t start until all of the wreckage is sorted through and hauled away.
This is a grueling process.
It’s the part where most people give up.
After all, it’s much easier to have a drink than to feel the weight of our current reality.

Here’s that most difficult part for you and for most people…
Are you ready for this?

There is nothing you can do to change him.

You can’t wish him sober.
You can’t force him to get sober.
You can’t make him see the disaster he leaves in his wake every time he comes around.

Here’s what you can do.

You can accept that nothing is going to change until he actively participates in recovery. (By this, I mean, pursues it like he would his next “fix.” It’s the only way to freedom.)
You can acknowledge and release the time you have given him and that he has squandered.
You can look at yourself in the mirror and say 2 words, “Not Anymore.” followed by 4 words, “From this moment forward.”
You can sincerely speak into your child’s heart and mind that you are her protector, provider, greatest advocate, teacher, mother, and that you will do whatever it takes to provide a life that’s healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. One where she can grow and thrive, because you know the time that you have with her is short and you will lay a solid foundation that she can always stand on without worry of losing her footing.
(The way you can be 100% confident of this is because it’s what Christ does for you…and for her…everyday.)
You can recognize that even though you didn’t plan for your life to play out this way, there are so many people who love you and want to come alongside you, if you will let them.
You can cry when you need to cry, scream even, when staring at the difficult truth that your child’s father isn’t present. (This is no place to linger. You feel the feelings and move on.)
You can look in the mirror, straight into your own soul and breathe in the grace that you will need on a daily basis to do life.
You can repeat in your head and out loud as much as needed, I am not alone. I am capable. I am strong and I am worthy of love.”
You can say these same affirmations to your daughter. She will need to know them. There may come a time in her life when they seem the only thing to cling to in the midst of the storm.
You can put one foot in front of the other and know that there will be days when you are in a groove and moving like a champion as well as the ones where every step towards tomorrow seems to sucker punch you back into yesterday. That’s okay. We appreciate beauty all the more when we see the purpose of the rain. (Didn’t you tell me that?)

“Friend,” You are so very loved.
We see you.
We hear you.
You matter.

And…it’s time to walk away.
We’ll be right beside you every step of the way.

Love and Grace,

3 Reasons Why I Won’t Give Up

JCP-1119 (1 of 1) (1)There is a girl, who I love very much, on a path of self-destruction. I have been feeling, in the last few days that she may be successful in her attempts to end her own life.

It feels helpless.

She struggles with some of the same things I struggled with so if anyone should know that nothing can be done, it is I. But that doesn’t stop me from trying, does it? It’s our human nature to come to the rescue of the ones we love and fight for their existence when they no longer seem to care about existing.

I remember once describing my circumstances as feeling like a glass box, encompassing me. I was naked and everyone could see me, but no one could hear me…and I couldn’t hear them. Some of the onlookers were laughing while others were weeping. Some of the people closest to me were pounding on the glass, yelling at me. I couldn’t understand their words, but the emotion in their face communicated such pain.

I am no longer on the inside of the box. I now stand in the crowd, looking in at this beautiful woman, full of potential and light. She, like I, doesn’t see herself accurately. Her appearance, her worth, it’s all skewed. I say things from the outside, but she doesn’t hear me. Her mother, aunt, grandmother, grandfather and friends, weep at the thought of her life ending before it has really even begun. She doesn’t hear them either. She sees them, but their feelings can’t get through the glass she surrounds herself in.

She closes her eyes and is completely alone. In darkness…with only the noise of her own thoughts in her head. If only she would open her eyes, grab the closest thing and shatter the glass. Anyone of us would gladly do it for her, but the only thing that will break this glass is inside the box, with her.

She is teaching me that when we live for others or rely on others for our happiness or discontentment, our reasons for existing are always changing. So I’ve taken a long hard look at why I don’t give up on life when the feelings start telling me to.

Here’s why…

1. A better day always comes. Without fail! Life gets better. It’s just the way it works. Some days are going to suck. Nothing will go as planned. There is always a better day in the future. I know this to be true! I’ve seen it happen more than once in my life. It is guaranteed.

2. Life is incredibly short. It feels really long some days, but the truth is, we blink and our childhood is over, our early adulthood has been lived and we are looking back thinking what our parents always told us they thought, “Where has the time gone?” I want to look back and see a life well lived. In order to do that, I can’t be finished yet.

3. My life, my story, can be used to teach others about perseverance, courage, loving beyond my ability, dreaming BIG dreams and watching them come to fruition. It’s about raw recovery. My life is the epitome of amazing grace.

I know, with all of my heart and experience that the clock is ticking and time is running out. I know that she will die unless she decides to live. I know because there was a day when I was given a choice and I chose life.

Here is our last text exchange.
Text MessageIf you or someone you love is suffering, please don’t wait until it’s too late. There is hope and it starts with you.

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support
  • Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention 1-800-931-2237
  • Eating Disorders Center 1-888-236-1188
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 1-847-831-3438
  • Crisis Intervention 1-888-596-4447
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or TTY 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
  • Red Nacional de Prevencion del Suicidio 1-888-628-9454
  • Veterans Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1

My Nonviable Pregnancy

Last night I had a dream that I was pregnant.
My baby was born with complications and did not live long after birth.
In the dream the mourning process was so intense, I was sure it was actually happening to me. You know those dreams where something in your mind keeps saying, “This is just a dream. It’s not really happening. Wake up.” I had that somewhere in the background, but it didn’t matter. The pain felt real.

I was so sad and no matter what anyone said or did, it wasn’t helpful or comforting.

In 2005 I experienced a traumatic miscarriage. One that could have taken my life.
I remember the look on the tech’s face while staring at the monitor. It went from relaxed to furrowed. I said, “What’s wrong?
There was silence followed by her reply, “Let me get the doctor. I’ll be right back.”
Why? What do you see?” I begged.
“I’ll be right back.” she responded.

It’s amazing how quickly, pure unadulterated joy can turn into confusion and emotional chaos.

You can guess what happened next…the doctor came in to say that there was no heartbeat and it was no longer a viable pregnancy.
I watched her mouth move, not really hearing a word she said.
I don’t understand?” I said.
“These things happen all the time.” she answered.
Not to me, they don’t! This has never happened to me!” I screamed almost in a whisper.
“You’ll get pregnant again. Don’t worry.” she said as she patted my knee.

She then explained the procedure they would need to do to remove all the tissue that made up my “nonviable” pregnancy.
We walked to the checkout counter and scheduled the appointment for the next week.
That was a Friday and the appointment was the next Tuesday.

What happens between now and then?” I asked.
“Maybe nothing…or your body may decide to start the process on it’s own.” she responded. “Either way, we will need to perform the procedure to ensure safety for you and future pregnancies.”

We walked through the door marked exit.

For the next little while her words played over and over in my mind.
“These things happen all the time…You’ll get pregnant again, don’t worry.”
It was surprising and upsetting to me how quickly this life was dismissed. Though present only for a short time in my womb, surely it deserved a little more acknowledgement?
Is it okay for me to be sad?
Is it silly of me to cry and feel like I’m losing my baby?
Is it ridiculous that I cannot even think about getting pregnant again while I’m still sorting out the details of restoring my body to normalcy after this miscarriage?

The next few days played out like a movie.
I began cramping at work, knew something was wrong, left work and drove home. By then I was hemorrhaging. I had never seen so much blood.

Chris was on his way home to take me to the ER.
I remember the nurse on the phone saying, “Stay with me until he gets there.”
She said an ambulance would take just as long, maybe longer by the time they found the house so it was better to wait on Chris. I remember asking her if I was going to die. She said, “Not if you get to the ER in time.”

I did get to the ER in time.
I didn’t die.
I went on to have beautiful, healthy, children.

When you ask me why I take pictures of families experiencing the loss of a child, I think this is part of the reason. My loss is nothing compared to the way some families experience losing their baby, but it was still my loss.

It hurt.
It was lonely.
It was scary.
I needed someone (preferably a girlfriend) to walk alongside me and just be.

Do you know a woman like that?
The kind who will just be with you and doesn’t require small talk or entertainment? They are content with the beauty of silence.

I think I had that dream last night because it prompted this post and someone needed to read these words today.

So for that someone…no matter what stage of pregnancy or postpartum you experienced your loss, all of the feelings you feel are valid. Feel them deeply and for as long as you need to. I am convinced, now more than ever, that is the only true pathway to healing and peace.

Salt & Lemon in the Wound

We’ve all had at least one.
It’s small, barely noticeable until bumped and reopened.
Typically, we don’t even remember how it happened.
We don’t realize it’s there until a small grain of salt or anything acidic gets in, then it’s hard to think of anything else.

What am I talking about?IMG_7780

A paper cut.

I have a paper cut close to the tip of my right ring finger. Can’t see it? Let me zoom in…
You’re thinking, “Not a big deal.” Right?
Wrong! I’ve had incisions held together with staples that didn’t give me as much trouble as this tiny, surface scratch.

Not only is it annoying, but I forget it’s there until I pick up a lemon to squeeze in my water. Doing so will quickly remind me of this tiny nuisance and all but draw tears to my eyes with the sudden and intense stinging.

I started thinking…
this little paper cut is much like the things I don’t see as a big deal until they show up in the form of a personal insecurity or when one of my children say or do them, they quickly become the center of attention and something that must be dealt with immediately before turning into a much larger issue.

What do I mean?

We’ve all told lies that come back to bite us in the butt, or spent too much money on something we didn’t need, or had one drink too many, or eaten more dessert than we should have. Those are obvious snares that if not managed properly will grow bigger and deeper over time.

But what about those things that no one else can see. The internal nicks and scrapes? The habitual thoughts that we keep to ourselves.

What are you telling yourself on a daily basis, when you’re the only one listening?

What are your mental paper cuts?

Maybe it sounds like this…
I’m so fat.
I’m ugly.
I’m just average.
What makes me think I can help anyone else when I can’t even help myself?
I’m ridiculous.
I’m a mess.
I will never be able to do this.

When you make a mistake you may think to yourself or say under your breath…
I’m such a dumb ass.

Every time you make these kinds of statements to yourself, you are paper cutting your mind. You’re placing tiny, yet annoying, easily irritated, abrasions on your brain. They may remain unnoticed until getting rubbed by a situation or brought to the surface after the sting of a cunning remark or judgmental glance. It all starts with one statement that doesn’t even have to be said out loud. It could be only a thought.

Things that I don’t think are a big deal can become the most cumbersome mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Why? Because they could easily and quickly heal if not continually reopened. However, we must consciously protect our thought life, because as we all know, thoughts lead to words which lead to actions which inevitably lead to outcomes.

How? Stay away from the sour things that sting and burn. Refute the negativity with truth, immediately when it enters your mind. Allow yourself to heal completely before continuing on with your normal routine. Don’t allow thoughts, statements and actions to continually cut you. Guard your heart and your mind against the seemingly harmless things that happen without notice and before long have a power over you that distracts and frustrates you throughout your day.

Stay focused on your purpose and when the paper cuts come, recognize them for what they are, avoid salt and citrus until healed, and live your life on purpose.