collateral beauty

To Be Like Sadness

You know Sadness, from the movie Inside Out? She knows something profound.


This morning, I read:
If someone asked you if you were compassionate, you might readily say yes. Or at least, "I believe so." But pause to examine the word compassion...For the word comes from the roots that mean literally to "suffer with"; to show compassion means sharing in the suffering "passion" of another. Compassion understood in this way asks more from us than a mere stirring of pity or sympathetic word. 
To live with compassion means to enter others' dark moments. It is to walk into places of pain, not to flinch or look away when another agonizes. It means to stay where people suffer. Compassion holds us back from quick eager explanations when tragedy meets someone we know or love. 
In some ways you might think such opening ourselves to other' pain would only intensify our own. How many people run to where others are suffering? Who easily hears someone weep or cry out or reveal a quiet sadness? Confronted with poverty or hardship or mourning, we say to ourselves, "Let's go where things feel a little more comfortable." Such is our natural logic.
In so many encounters we try to look away from the pain. We try to help our friends quickly process grief. We hastily look for ways to bring cheer to a child or ailing aunt. All the while, however, we act less our of genuine "suffering with" and more out of our need to stand back from the discomfort we fear we might feel. We secretly restlessly want to move from the place where it hurts. Our evasions do not help others, of course, but rather cause them to put up defenses and drive away those who need someone to care. 
One reason we react to others this way grows out of our skirting of our own pain. We resist getting near the suffering of another partly out of our unwillingness to suffer ourselves. For another's hardship suggests to us what can also hurt us. Such reminders unsettle. But our hesitation to look squarely at another's suffering, to sit or stand with someone in pain, weighs on conversations an obligation for the other to "act happy." Even worse, our persisting in denying our losses leads to mounting desire to control other people's lives. In his penetrating study, The Betrayal of the Self, the psychoanalyst Arno Gruen shows convincingly how "the actual source of our cruelty and callousness lies in the rejection of our suffering." 
For we may fall into the illusion that we own people, that we can use them, that we have a right to manage their feelings. By offering premature advice on how to cope, by rushing to reassure, by prodding with advice, we say much about or own needs for easy closure. When we barge in with such consolation, we make hurting souls into objects or projects. 
For all the ways this approach seems to insulate us from the hurts and needs of others, it ends up not helping us at all...We find relationships bending or even breaking under the weight of expectations we place on them in our discomfort with another's suffering. We end up even more alone and walled within our disappointments or sadnesses." 

-Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing

By being brave enough to look deeply into our own suffering, we become able to sit with others in their suffering. By learning to show genuine compassion, to truly "suffer with" another, we will build gentleness, gratitude and even joy in our own hearts as well as meaningful relationships with others. Our hearts will be bigger and our world will be better if we can be brave enough to look into and understand the depths of our own suffering.

When a life changing grief becomes insignificant

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After Lach died I read a book called Hello, from Heaven. It was a lovely little compilation of stories that people told of their "visits" from their loved ones. There must have been a chapter in there of people who had their visits in the form very vivid and vibrant dreams. I wanted to have that experience so terribly. I did have one dream about toward the end of that first year. However, it was not the peaceful hope-filled dream that I was yearning for. Instead, this one left me feeling the wound torn open and the ache of living without him feeling very fresh again. I definitely didn't want to have that experience again. 
I had a different kind of dream about a month ago and I'm finally deciding to share it. Sometimes things are too big for words and it feels like you are taking something away from a powerful experience by trying to make it conform to our language. However, in the case that it might bring a ray of hope to someone else, here goes: 
It began as I was parking my van in a grassy area of a park that was somehow connected to Nehemiah, a local high school boy that was killed in a car accident 2 years ago. This is a kid that I had some secondary connections to, but had never met myself. As I was backing into the spot, suddenly I could see Nehemiah through my rear view mirror and he helped me get parked. Then he playfully came around the car and greeted me with a warm hug as I got out. As I started to look around, I saw groups of people around the park. Some of the people had colors that were brighter and more saturated than everything else around them. I came to understand that those who were brighter were of heaven and everything that was more dull was of earth. I stood there in awe, slowly taking it in, and Nehemiah communicated to me without words that he'd see if Lach could come. I turned toward my left shoulder, slowing taking in the view in amazement, and as I got about 2/3 the way around, there was a grand piano sitting just off in the distance. Lach was sitting on the bench reaching toward the keys of the piano. He was still 10 months old, wearing the green and orange striped shirt that he wore both in the picture we used for his obituary and on the day he died. Everything is about him was bright and radiant. When I spotted him, he made eye contact with me and gave me a sweet and knowing little pursed-lip grin. I ran toward him and scooped him up, hugging him and kissing him. 
There was SO MUCH love and peace and joy. SO MUCH! As I held him, I came to understand our grief response as a teeny tiny completely natural response to being separated from something we are enjoying. In comparison to the joy of the moment, that all-consuming grief of losing a child dwarfed into an insignificant and temporary loss. It became more like the feeling that we have when something ordinary that we are enjoying comes to its natural end... The amazing movie that is now over, the fall of the leaves in autumn, the roller coaster ride that comes to an end...the faint "that-was-great, too-bad-it's-over" response.
At the same time as I was holding Lach and coming to understand the loss in a new perspective, I was also waking up. I knew that I would be waking up to continue living in my separation from him. I was SO ok with this! It was no big deal! It is so small and temporary and insignificant in comparison to the overwhelming love and joy that is to come. I woke up with tears in my eyes...Joyful tears that came from a delight at the glimpse of the what that reunion might be like, and the the peek at a joy, a peace, and a love that are so abundant they dwarf even a life-changing grief into something that is barely perceptible.

I don't dream often, and when I do, there is usually not much to make of it. This dream was something else. It was so clear and so vivid. It gave me new perspective to hold onto as well as hope and courage for the journey. It's a perspective could be applied not just to the loss of Lachlan, but to the rest of life's struggles too.

Hold onto hope all you much as your hearts hurt now, they will rejoice a million times over!

For His Soul was Pleasing to the Lord

The one who pleased God was loved, living among sinners, was transported--snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul; For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right and the whirl of the desire transforms the innocent mind. Having become perfect in a short while, he reached the fullness of a long career; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness. But the people saw and did not understand, nor did they take that consideration into account. Grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
-Wisdom 4:10-15

To be loved so deeply, to be spared the suffering and struggle of humanity, to be created perfectly in God's image and to remain always in that perfection. That is a blessing that has been given to our children who died so young.  It is a gift that is so easy to overlook in the midst of our grief, but if we dare to recognize it, it is a small source of comfort in the sea of heartache!

Give Away Your Love

I figured out pretty early on that there was something beneficial for me in reaching out to other people. It didn’t matter too much what it was, it was simply the effort to make the day better for someone else that brought just a glimmer of light into my dark world. In fact, I had little “Random Act of Kindness in memory of Lachlan” cards made up. I didn’t end up using very many of those. I guess I found that the outward acknowledgement of why I was doing it was not necessary. It just felt good to bring a little ray of sunshine into someone else’s day.

Sometimes it was in purely random acts…dropping off a bouquet of flowers for a stranger, buying a coffee for the person in line behind me, or handing a $10 Target gift card to someone just walking in the doors of the store… Those things were good, but I found that they seemed a little bit awkward and forced. What brings more hope and joy and healing for me, is seeing a need and going out of the way to fill it. It is in doing more than what is expected. When I started building Lach’s Legacy, it was to reach out to other people, to support people in their grief, help them find some resources that may be helpful…however, in reaching out, I found excitement, joy and hope. By doing that, I was helping myself as much, or more, than I was helping anyone else. When I get to talk to a newly bereaved parent, I know it comforts them to share their story and to connect with someone who understands, but it also helps me. It gives me new perspective and fresh ideas and it helps me to remember how far I’ve come from the agony of new grief. I’m pretty sure I can feel my heart growing in those experiences.

I find joy…not necessarily a happy, giddy, smiling, laughing sort of joy, but a deep and peaceful joy, when we are able to offer a special kindness to a terminally ill child and their family, when I am able to help a new student feel a little more comfortable in their environment, and when I am able to connect with someone who is working through one of life’s struggles. I get more from those experiences than I give. St. Francis of Assisi figured that out before I did. He said, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” He was right.

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Consciously Becoming

Today’s prompt is meant to highlight the differences in ourselves before the loss and after it, and who we are becoming. I’ve said it before, and most bereaved parents will say it…I am different after losing a child. Before Lachlan died, I was able to somehow feel protected from suffering and tragedy. Bad things happened to other people. I could be sympathetic to the suffering of others, but I wasn’t touched by it in the same way that I am now. Their tough stuff remained separate from me. It wasn’t out of coldness or an intentional attitude to protect myself, but there was an innocence or a naivety that didn’t really allow me to feel the suffering of others very well. It was inexperience with how hard life can sometimes be. I was able to be happy and content in my controlled world.

Then Lach died and that innocence died with him. Suffering was real, it was personal, and it was deep. I guess when a heart breaks open, it is given room to grow. Now I am able to be more open-hearted to the misfortune of others. I can more quickly move beyond a sympathetic response to an empathetic one. I want to choose a heart that remains broken if that allows my heart the room to continue to grow. I want to consciously become better at living with hope, mercy, truth, and love…always striving to be a softer, richer, deeper, wiser, and better version of myself. 

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Lemons and Lemonade

Making lemonade out of the lemons is partly how my brain works. When something is awful, after I’ve complained about it a bit, I’ll start looking for the silver linings. I have to. Otherwise the negative experience is for nothing. 
While we all need a moment to acknowledge the crappiness of any given situation, if you allow yourself to marinade in nothing but the bitterness, that’s exactly the flavor your life and your personality will take on. I didn’t want to become bitter because of my loss.
After Lach’s death, sometimes the silver linings were little things…the ability to sleep soundly (even though it took me forever to fall asleep) or losing that 10 lbs that I didn’t really want anyway (even though it was enormous stress that kept me from eating). I was tremendously humbled and blessed by all the people that reached out to support us during that time. People gave so generously of their time, their money, their vacation hours, their thought, and their prayer. There was simply no adequate way to thank people like I wanted to. It didn’t take long for me to see that response from others as the hands of God reaching out to hold us during that time. That was Him, finding his way to us, through you. Each individual act of kindness and compassion was like a drop that, when combined with the others, created an enormous wave of support. To experience that first hand was part of the lemonade.
I truly believe I am a better person because of my loss. I still have plenty of work to be done, but I am more empathetic to others in their struggles. I have more peace. I am able to be more confident in taking care of my own needs and the needs of my family with less pull from outside pressures. I have a better understanding of what really matters in this life. I have a better appreciation of the temporary nature of our existence. The people in our lives and the situations we are in will not last forever, so I make an effort enjoy the people and things that I love while I have them.
I met others who made lemonade after their losses and taught me that it was possible. Lach’s Legacy is my lemonade stand…this Capture Your Grief project is a lemonade stand. Making a connection with a bereaved parent, the little notes that acknowledge that a care package, a connection, or that sharing my experience out loud has somehow made a difference—those things, like a little packet of sugar, sweeten the deal. 

Day 12 Lemons and Lemonade.jpg

Enjoy the Little Things

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After a significant loss, it becomes immediately crystal clear the things that are most important in life. It's the people! Living to love them in their imperfections, forgive them for mistakes, to enjoy their company and to make someone else's day a little bit better. 
For a long time it was almost painful to hear people talk about the mundane troubles in life. So many of the things that upset us are nothing when they are put into the bigger picture of life, love, death, and eternity. 
Over time, "life as usual" has returned to me in a lot of ways. I find myself frustrated when kids aren't behaving or when I've cleaned up the 3rd mess and it's only 7:30 am. I worry about when I'm going to find time to get the laundry done, or running late for something on the schedule. I get lost in following my facebook feed or the latest pinterest find, or reading the news. I don't always give people the undivided attention that I want to. I can't help but wonder how many moments like the one pictured that I have missed because my mind was elsewhere. I would give almost anything to re-live that scene. 
There are moments, especially in hearing the tragedies and suffering of others, that I am again reminded of what's really important. My intention, then, is to continue to strive to be mindful and present in the moment, living it to the best of my ability. After all, this may be the last one we get to share together.