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
16 
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.

Permission to Shed Your Armor

hero |ˈhi(ə)rō|
noun (pl. heroes)
a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities

Somehow, somewhere, we women got it in our heads that our men are unshakeable. That nothing should affect them, especially the way it affects us… They are the strong ones… There isn’t anything they can’t shrug off and move on from. Well, this simply isn’t true. And that fact doesn’t make them any less of a hero.

JCP2015-When my man walks through the door, in from the world and all of it’s toxic arrows, the first thing he should be able to do is shed his armor.

I don’t always allow him to do that. I don’t always tell him what an amazing provider he is and how strong and courageous he is to fight the daily battles that I could never withstand. I’m not always his biggest cheerleader and I don’t always let him know that there is no one, to me, like he is.

I want to. I do.

MY will gets in the way.
MY clouded perception of who does what and who should do more or less, creeps up.
MY skewed sense of self worth puts up a wall that isn’t always easily torn down and instead of voicing my insecurity, I lash out.
MY self centeredness kicks in, more than I would like to admit and within moments, my priorities can center solely around my wants.
This is not something I’m proud of.

Here is the solution. And I know this, because I have failed at so many other ways of trying.

Please join me on the blog over at leadingandlovingit.com/blog for the rest of this post.

Prayer for Freedom and Fullness

“O God, for another day, for another morning, for another hour, for another minute, for another chance to live and serve Thee, I am truly grateful.

Do Thou this day free me from
all fear of the future,
all anxiety about tomorrow,
all bitterness towards anyone,
all cowardice in the face of danger,
all laziness in the face of work,
all failure before opportunity,
all weakness when Thy power is at hand.

But fill me with
Love that knows no barriers,
Sympathy that reaches to all,
Courage that cannot be shaken,
Faith strong enough for the darkness,
Strength sufficient for my tasks,
Loyalty to Thy Kingdom’s goal,
Wisdom to meet life’s complexities,
Power to lift me to Thee.

Be Thou with me for another day, and use me as Thou wilt.
For Christ’s sake I pray.
Amen.”

(Wallace Friday)

When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.
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It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.

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Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

The Ugly Side of Truth

What I say, “I would write even if I only had one person reading.”
What I mean, “I love when I hear that someone has connected with my writing. I hope I have 10,000 more just like them.

What I say, “The number of followers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, my blog…doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I’m reaching the person who needs to be reached.
What I mean, “I love affirmation! When I see the number of followers steadily rise it gives me a rush. When I see the number go down it makes me wonder what those people didn’t like about my message.

What I say, “I write as an expression, never paying mind to what people might think when they read my thoughts.” (I literally just laughed out loud at the absurdity of this comment while typing it.)
What I mean, “I hope this changes someone’s life and makes me the hero.

The more “followers” I have, the more I want.social-media
The more you “confirm” my value, the more I want to hear.
The more “likes” clicked on my status, the more validated I appear.
I want you to think I’m a wonderful person with an endless capacity for charity.
Truth be told, was it not for grace, you would see the wretched person I am.

I realize I’ve just completely sold myself out and admitted that I’m an affirmation junkie, a seeker of self, a slave to ego…then I add Jesus to the equation. I open my hands and ask him to strip away those things that entangle me. I beg him to remove everything hindering my spirit from walking closely with him. I cry out in frustration that I would allow myself to be the one thing standing in the way of complete freedom in my Savior. It’s exhausting!

And then He whispers to my heart, “Worthy, precious, child, if you did everything perfectly, what need would you have for forgiveness? If your every decision was selfless and pure, what need would you have for grace? If when you stand before the mirror, you are without blemish, why did I give my life to set you free? Some days I will give you moments while others will be hours, but not a day will pass where I will not give you the realization that everything good comes from me. Never a day will go by that I don’t show you that the breath you’re breathing and the next breath and the next are not possible without my willing them to be. It does something for your soul to approach me, recognizing your absolute dependence on me.

My journey has been one of gut wrenching pain, inexplicable happiness, bountiful blessing and tragic loss. I know the superficial feeling of superiority when surrounded by people of earthly importance and I know the sacred peace of weeping with a mother whose baby just took her last breath. I am both a woman in recovery who has seen addiction at its ugliest and a wife, mother and business woman striving to make a difference in the short time given on this earth.

I am learning that when my mind attempts to steer me toward self, I choose Jesus. Sometimes it’s just in the nick of time. I don’t say long, elaborate prayers. I don’t always drop to my knees or fall on my face (though at times that’s the only way to find reverence.) There’s no formal monologue. Most of the time it is a word or sentence. It’s simple enough for a child to recite yet powerful enough to calm my anxious heart, “Jesus. My Jesus. Not my will. Not my way. Yours. You are able to do far more than I could ever ask or think. You created me with great purpose and I trust Your plan. You have never deceived me and will never lead me into a place where You are not there waiting for me. Please drowned out all the noise that attempts to distract me from my real purpose. Unshackle me from the bondage of self.

Maybe you can relate to the confessions in this post or maybe you now view me as a lying, Jesus freak. I cannot concern myself with your interpretation, only with my delivery. I can only hope that by sharing my struggle, you will feel less alone in yours.

Need a place of refuge? Visit my friends over at People of the Second Chance. Get connected. You don’t ever have to be alone again.

 

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Cleansing through tears

Dear Elliot,

In just a few days we will hit the 1 year mark since your last day on this earth. Only, it’s Elliotwkiddosgoing to be a day like any other in the last 365 days of grief.

Every day people come to the blog and read the posts as I processed through those days of uncertainty. Your story of unwavering faith in the face of unthinkable sorrow is reaching others and will forever be shared. Every day I am able to pray for Chris, Wyatt and Bradford as you are in and out of my thoughts.

I was telling someone your story the other day. I don’t even remember how it came up? I didn’t cry. I was very matter of fact. I haven’t cried in a long time.

What I have been is angry. Not at God. At cancer…at the treatments used…at the what~ifs. I’ve been too angry to cry. But today I watched this video about a 17-year-old boy named Zach and the legacy he left behind when he passed away on May 20, 2013 (his story is documented below.) I slid down into the place between the overstuffed chair and the wall of windows and I wept.

I made up for months of no tears. It’s the same spot I sat more than a year ago and begged God for a miracle. It was my go to place when things overwhelmed me. I haven’t sat there since last year while talking to Elisabeth on the phone a few days before you died and knowing what need not be said.

El, my chest has literally ached for days. My heart hurts. Though I will never know how widespread your influence has been, it is vast. I do not understand the ways of our mysterious God. I don’t even know how to finish the letters I’ve started writing to Wyatt and Bradford.

What I know for certain is that I don’t want to find out I’m dying to really start living. I want to live. I want to love until it heals. Laugh until my sides hurt and my lips shake. Dance around my living room until I’m out of breath. Drink in the sunlight, feel summer raindrops on my skin. I want to live, El. You taught me that.

I want to dream big
Never stop seeking
Brag on a God who is beyond explanation
Reach the unreachable
Believe in Heaven
Heal the hurting
Capture beauty and give it away
I want to know when this day is done that I am more than satisfied with the goings on.

I want to play more
Give more
Sing more
Pray more

I know you wouldn’t wish anger for any of us left here to grieve. Every time I see a “sky cross” I grasp the visual evidence that God gives me the strength I need when I need it.

I love you friend. Thank you for living with such grace and beauty. Thank you for showing everyone who witnessed your courage during illness that God is good even when it doesn’t feel like it and he has a plan and a purpose for our lives.

Blessings and Light,
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Related Posts:
Saying Goodbye
A Tribute to Elliot

Five Minute Friday: Rest

RestAhhhhh. I take a deep breath in and slowly exhale preparing for a few tranquil moments of meditation. Rest.

Last night a beautiful young friend and I were discussing this very thing. I watched as tears ran down her checks and onto her blouse. She wiped them away with the sleeve of her sweater while saying, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t feel as close to God and I’m not sure how to get back.”

One thing I’ve learned in my years of running is that when I feel distance it is not He who creates it. It is I.

For me, I can’t always reconnect without meeting Him under the circumstances of rest. Being still. Opening my hands to the heavens. “Here I am, Lord. I just want to sit here a while…in your presence…where restoration can be found.”

Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.” Why is being still so difficult?

I looked into the eyes of this remarkable young woman who, though just out of her teens, has played the role of mother, provider, protector and spiritual leader for her siblings since a very young age and therefore doesn’t know what it feels like or even how to be still.

I encouraged her to open emptied hands to the heavens, fully expectant of the blessings He would flood down, filling not only her hands, but her heart, mind and body. Pour out her cares to the God who formed every detail of her being in the womb of the mother who would leave her soon after. Allow someone else to bear her burden. Even if only for a while. Renouncing the illusion of control.

 Surrender, to me, is the epitome of rest.

Do you find time for rest? Is it difficult to be still? Join Lisa-Jo and a community of participants over at Five Minute Friday and tell us your story.