Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Morbid Humor

I spent time with a grieving friend recently. Some of our conversation involved morbid, irreverent humor, and a generous helping of curse words. We bounced from topic to topic, and ridiculous cemetery stories were mixed in with talk about youth sports and silent, wide-eyed stares that said, "Is this really happening?" "WTH?"

It reminded me that humor, cursing, and wide-eyed disbelief all have a place in grief. Morbid laughter is not the same as the gentle laughter and even belly laughs that come during a memorial service as sweet and hilarious stories of a loved one are shared.

Morbid humor has an edge, and it might make people uncomfortable.

It's laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. How life was one way yesterday, and oh so different today. When you'd just stocked up on a bunch of snacks that now will never be eaten, on Irish Spring soap that no one else wants. For how could stupid soap or Cheez-its "outlive" a beloved person?

See? Ridiculous.

I remember joking that I had a little cloud of doom that went with me wherever I went. Now if you'd just met me, with smile lines around my eyes and a talkative nature, you wouldn't jump to that conclusion. Doom? She's just a regular person. But what if you found out I was the girl whose mom died? What if, years later, I was known to you only as the mom of the boy in the creek?

Not exactly laugh-inducing.

But by describing myself as such, with my own little cloud of doom, I could laugh at the absurdity of  the most boring, predictable person in the universe living a life marked by something as dramatic as death. By making jokes, I could feel like I had some control of the narrative, even though deep down I'd come to realize I had none at all.

Morbid humor shows up as families do the unthinkable-- pick out clothes for funerals, write obituaries, or try to remember important details when their brains are misfiring and the sky looks too, too blue. It's easier to make fun of the way a hapless funeral director or grief therapist said something than to fully grasp why you were in the funeral home or in the therapist's office in the first place. It's easier and a lot more fun to play the "My Friend Compared my Loss to a ________ Game" than to agonize over whether anyone will ever truly understand the extent of your grief.

Morbid humor is the domain of the grievers themselves.

PLEASE know I wouldn't have taken kindly to someone making jokes around the death of my mother or my child. In fact, many grievers save this kind of humor for grief groups or with others who have "been there" and can "get" the sometimes snarky shorthand of grief. It feels safer in that atmosphere.

But what if they do share it with us?  How can we show support for a friend who lets us in on this sacred facet of grief?

Be honored. Buckle up for the ride. Embrace irreverence for a while. Listen. Hug. And if it feels right, throw in a few curse words now and then.

P.S. When Tim, Margaret and I entered our room at the safari lodge on our dream Africa trip last December, these insect repellents were the first thing I saw.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Busy Bee

Last week was a challenge, with Tim traveling, Andrew getting a cold that quickly turned to croup and landed him in the ER, and the painful lead-up to Jack's 19th (yes, NINETEENTH!) birthday on Sunday.

There were many bright spots too.

Andrew and I were playing on our hill when he made a bee-line for the garage in search of something. He came out with a toy shovel and started heading toward a neighbor's house. He'd spotted their enormous pile of mulch and wanted to "help" shovel it.

These kids notice everything, don't they? The only thing that got him away from their mulch pile was his fortuitous discovery of a balance bike in the garage I'd bought at a yard sale for when he was older. Much older.

Here he is all tangled up in it. It took some serious restraint not to untangle him, but I could tell he didn't want help, "I OKAY! I OKAY!"

Today, he was at it again. After some time lovingly embracing our local fire hydrant, he saw the mulch guys show up in a big truck, and he wanted part of the action.

This time he got his wheelbarrow and took it down so they could all compare equipment. He wanted to be sure they knew his wheelbarrow has ONE WHEEL, so please get that on the record.

So glad he's on the mend. I love seeing how his mind works. Now Tim and I are trying to teach him to sleep on his own after being sick...

Monday, February 26, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

After Jack died, thoughts and prayers helped carry me.

I could feel our pain being shared in our town, across the country, and around the world by readers like you. You were willing to step into our story, to care and pray, even though it hurt. Those thoughts and prayers helped me get up and speak at Jack's service, and greet his classmates in the carpool line each day after school that first terrible year. They helped me have enough strength to parent Margaret in my most depleted state.

Some people wonder why "thoughts and prayers" are getting such a bad rap these days. I'd love to share my perspective.

For those of you who were with me in those early days, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to "fix" our family's situation. There was no real "cause" attached to Jack's accident. The best thing that could be done for us was to send up fervent prayers.

You prayed, and it did make a difference.

"Thoughts and prayers" ring hollow, however, when those in a position to effect change after a tragedy choose to do nothing, or even actively WORK AGAINST change, while saying they will pray.

This heaps pain upon pain. It is the utmost in disrespect.

When I see yet another child with cancer come across my timeline, I pray. Hard. But I also get out my credit card and donate to children's cancer research, because I know that money will make a difference. I am not a policy maker. I don't decide why children's cancer only gets about 4% of research funds. But I can pray, donate money, spread awareness, and not look the other way.

In the case of our nation's epidemic of school shootings, I can honor the children who died by advocating for common sense gun control. I can support Sandy Hook mom Scarlett Lewis's program to increase Social Emotional Learning so that fewer children will feel so alienated that they turn to violence.

It's easy to say that NOTHING will prevent all school shootings.

Is that reason enough not to try? The victims' families can't be "fixed." They need our prayers, big-time, as they grieve. How generous of them, in the depths of their pain, to use their voices to try to stop this from happening to another family!

There is no way to gauge the power of a single heartfelt prayer.
Or a single weapon that didn't get into the wrong hands.
Or one human connection that made the difference between destructive anger and hope.

I'll close with this powerful video from Aaron Stark, "I Was Almost a School Shooter" Interview is at the top, Aaron reading his letter is at the bottom.

Andrew Fix

For those of you who are not on Facebook, I bet you are overdue for an Andrew Fix.

Here's my busy guy enjoying being outdoors and playing with paint and shaving cream. Puddles are his favorite. Can't believe he'll be two in April!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Be Mine

I know you are used to my rants about Tim's ignoring the Big Day. Or, my propensity to buy myself a purse from Target to celebrate my ardent love for myself on February 14. Or, sweet blogs about family traditions, from WAY BACK in the days when, for privacy's sake, I called Jack "Jake" and Margaret "Molly" on this blog.

Today's a little different.

Tim got me salt and pepper shakers in our china pattern to replace ones that have been broken and mended, broken and mended, over the years. What an appropriate and thoughtful gift.

My first thought when looking at both the old and new shakers, however, was that each set looked a bit...anatomical in its own special way.

My second thought was that the old salt shaker is a really good illustration of 26 Valentine's Days and 21 years of marriage.

The cracks and mending represent some of the excruciatingly hard times we have endured. Times when we've been shattered on the ground. Times we've had to pick through shards and pieces to see if and how we'd fit together again, particularly after our son's death. We are changed by what we've been through, even as we still function. The sustained, everyday use, despite these scars, reminds me of how we have continued to show up, long past the heady early days of wedding registries and clueless optimism.

So maybe this isn't the most romantic Valentine's post you've ever read, but I think instead of throwing away that salt shaker, I may keep it around as a reminder of how far we've come.

LOVE to you today, as always.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Kids and Grief: How do you make a Rainbow Baby not Feel Like a Replacement?

A few months ago I wrote about how Andrew has redeemed "boy things" for me. After Jack died, all things boy, whether the clothing aisles at Target, a Lego ad, or seeing boys of any age, brought much pain. Now, I can go to the boys' department and look for a good deal again, not cry for a stage of Jack's that I miss, or that he never got to. It's easier to look forward when fully engaged in the day-to-day needs of parenting a flesh and blood toddler, who is glued to my hip much of the time.

A reader who considered himself an unwitting and unwilling "replacement child" for his dead  brother shared how difficult it was growing up under the shadow of the sibling he never met. His pain was compounded by the fact that they shared a birthday, so even what should have been the most special day each year for him was linked to his brother and the reminder of the depths of his parents' grief and sadness. He considered it selfish for parents to try to have another child after loss because of the heavy baggage that child would always bear, and he recommended therapy rather than procreation as a way to find redemption.

I so appreciate his honesty and insight into the complexity of being a child who comes into a family after a sibling has died. He has been there; I haven't. And I want to honor his experience.

His comment also gave voice to some things I'd been wondering:

How do you make a rainbow baby not feel like a replacement?

How do you help your child grapple with the complicated realization that will likely come at some point, that had a sibling not died, he or she might not have been born?

How do you focus on the living child here, while honoring the memory of the child who died? 

Andrew is already going to have the oldest mom and dad around. His sister will be out of the house by the time he is 3 years old, so instead of being born into a noisy, boisterous family, he may have a childhood that feels more like Donaldson2.0 than what I would have chosen for him.

But he's here. Right now. And he's awesome. How will I help him with our family's less than traditional story?

Here are 5 ideas:

1) Let Andrew know that we always wanted a 3rd child, which is true, even though we never acted on it because life got in the way. His arrival may have been a lot later than we envisioned, but it was right on time, so that Andrew would be Andrew.

2) Make sure he knows he is not responsible for my healing or my happiness. Yes, having a baby brings life and promise and optimism, but it is not Andrew's job to fill me up or take away my grief. That's too much responsibility for a child to bear. I have myself, God, friends, and professionals to help me. He can be a kid.

3) Share about big brother Jack when it seems natural to do so, but don't deify him, and don't compare. Be sure to mention Jack's quirks and struggles as well as what came easily to him. Celebrate Andrew's uniqueness, his interests, his strengths.

4) Don't feel the need to bring Jack into every single conversation, but don't avoid mentioning him either. Gauge this on Andrew, just as we have with Margaret. Remember Jack is in paradise, and there is no way for me to let him down, disappoint him, or leave him out. There is no greater cheerleader for our family than Jack, so he would want us to find a rhythm that works for us.

5) Acknowledge Andrew when he feels like he is missing out, whether he grieves having siblings in the house with him, having younger parents, or whether it's about losing Jack, specifically. Let him know it's okay to grieve, it's okay to be angry, and it's okay to be happy.

What would you add? Are you parenting after loss, or are you, yourself, a "rainbow baby?" I think this is an important conversation, and I'd love to hear from you!

If you are in grief, or have a friend who is grieving, please consider giving them my book:

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Due to icy weather, illness, or school holidays, Andrew has only been to preschool 2 times since Dec 13! Being cooped up quickly took a toll on both of us, and I found inertia setting in. Too much TV. Too little human interaction and Vitamin D. One long day stretched into another, and eventually the thought of trying to leave the house became daunting.

Two weeks ago, we had a little break in the weather, so I decided to get off the couch and start taking him places again. First we went to church, where he explored the nursery. Next, I took him to the fancy-pants gym, where I discovered a contented Andrew having a tea party with several little girls and gnawing on the pretend food. The next day, preschool was back in session, and he had a blast as usual.

We both felt more positive about life.

By midnight the following night, however, we'd entered a barf-storm of epic proportions.

The misery.

The helplessness.

The laundry.

Oh, and did I tell you Tim was out of town? Over the next week and 1/2, we each succumbed to this nasty stomach virus AND Andrew was diagnosed with walking pneumonia.

So now we are back on lock-down. See you in the spring.