One Year: How Finding Community Can Help Us Survive Grief

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I walk with families every week who are saying goodbye to their baby or child. I’m personally no stranger to loss having lost three of my own children and my mother at a young age. While all losses are unique, there are some aspects of grief that we all share.

The first is acknowledgement:

We all need someone to meet us where we are in our pain…to recognize the hurt and just sit with us in it. We need acknowledgment and validation…not advice, not a quick fix. Because when we lose someone so precious and valuable to us, there is no quick fix. Every single life touches another, touches our world, in ways that ripple out to impact all of us. So every life is worth the missing ache that settles into each grieving heart when death separates us from those we love.

The second is that we need to know those we love are remembered.

One way we know they live on, besides knowing that their lives continue in heaven, is to keep their memory alive in our hearts. We need to tell their stories. We need to laugh and cry and remember every precious gift that changed the course of our lives, because they lived.

While grief can feel like our constant, unwelcome companion this side of heaven, this earth filled with so many goodbyes..fresh, raw grief brings with it an exceptional level of pain. This past spring, two teenage brothers from our small community were killed in a car accident coming back from a routine dentist appointment. They were the only children of their parents, beloved children…grandchildren…friends, talented athletes, excellent students…filled with kindness, joy, and abundant life. I stood with the students that day as they heard the words that stole their youth…their invincibility…their innocence. I held them and prayed. Among them was my son, one of the best friends of the 17 year old driver of the car, Xavier.

I never thought I would advocate on my son’s behalf to get permission to tattoo his untarnished body, but as I reflect on the last year, that day keeps coming to mind. I stood with him in the waiting area as the death metal singer screamed through the speakers. We handed them the artwork based on a wooden memorial built by our friend Josh, which stands outside of the school since the day of their funeral. I was surprised at the emotion, tears filling my eyes and pouring down my cheeks as the instrument permanently scarred his skin, drops of blood speckling his shoulder. It was such a raw picture of the way that his heart had been wounded and permanently scarred the day his friends died. And, I understood why he needed to have an outward reminder. I understood the depth of the brokenness and pain. I understood that boys and men need to physically do when they are hurting…and this act was something he could do. There is little comfort in feeling helpless.

What I have witnessed in the months since their tragic passing has solidified all that I believe about the hope and beauty that can be woven into the deepest, darkest places of brokenness and despair. You see, we were created with an infinite capacity to hope and to survive. I have watched our community literally walk with our dear friends, Brent and Michelle in their grief. I speak often about the analogy of carrying a heavy bucket. The weight is cumbersome and you grow weary under the burden of it. But, if a person comes alongside to help hold the bucket as they walk with you a little while, the weight doesn’t change; the bucket it still just as heavy…but the burden is less for the time it is shared. Grief is the same. The bible instructs us to bear one another’s burdens and that is exactly what I have witnessed in the ladies who take the time to literally walk with Michelle, meeting her wherever she is and the men who work alongside Brent. So many prayers lifted on their behalf. So many lives changed by the lives of their two amazing boys.

As we pray for Brent and Michelle and all who miss Xavier and Aidan today, I think of them spending this last year in heaven. We carry you with us in our hearts, sweet boys. We miss you and love you and every single person is better for having known you. I’m sure you get to see the good stuff from heaven and that you already know how incredible your parents are…how they continue to think of others, even in their pain. Your mother remains fierce in her love for you and your father continues to model the same incredible work ethic he taught you. Even in unspeakable pain, I have watched your mom keep stepping toward God, holding on to Him, as she tries to find a way to live without you. She often says she doesn’t know how you came to be so wonderful. But, we all see in both of your parents how you came to be so amazing…that the best of them shone in you. You both knew that already. But, I’ve just learned it in the last year. Like James always says, “God sent you here to teach us all how to live.” We will keep trying to remember that. And, we will always remember you.

I could go on and on about the beauty I have witnessed as my community has walked with Xavier and Aidan’s parents and one another through our extreme grief. But for this now, I just want to focus on a couple pieces of this journey. One…we need each other.  We are all rushing through this life, forgetting to focus on those we love, to soak in the precious and fleeting moments we get in this short time here. May we soak them in as we remember those who mean the most to us. At the end of a life, all that matters…all that is left is love. And, the other…is that what gets us through the hardest pain in this life is to find the courage (or pray for the courage) to keep stepping toward God…even in the midst of the pain. Even when we don’t remember how to keep breathing. He gives the grace we need for every moment…one breath at a time. One step at a time. We keep going. We keep telling their stories. We keep remembering. We live our best life…because they lived. We carry them with us…and they cheer us on from heaven.

 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37

 

 

Finding Redemption At A Baby Funeral

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I spent the afternoon at a baby funeral. It isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.

I walk with families every week who are saying goodbye to their baby or child, and I’m personally no stranger to loss, having lost three of my own children. What I get to learn in the moments when we’re stripped of the masks we wear to get through the day, when a soul is laid open and bare before me…whether at the bedside of a laboring mother or in the heart-wrenching testimony of God’s grace and redemption from the heart of a father at the funeral of his only child…is immeasurable. Immeasurable beauty has been woven deep into the human spirit. We are created by God with an infinite capacity to hope and to survive. And, as we stand amidst the ruins of the dreams we once held for our lives, God whispers a promise to redeem all, to restore all, to rebuild all.

I met baby Grayson’s mother and father on Valentine’s Day. She labored for about 36 hours. I was with them for about 20 or so. He spoke with a tough and endearing Boston accent. He felt all the feelings a father feels as he watches the woman he loves in physical and emotional pain he cannot fix. Helpless, angry, protective, sorrowful. He felt all the years of his own childhood and adulthood riddled with broken plans and dreams…a longing for redemption that seemingly would come wrapped in the life of his son. His one and only son. And, yet even that would be taken from him. He made her laugh in impossible circumstances. Their smiles told a deeper story…the story of a love that had survived trials, an overcoming, abiding love. She was a picture of strength and grace in the midst of the storm. In those hours when I am welcomed into the most sacred of spaces with a family, pieces of their story become a part of my own and I become a tiny part of theirs. Encounters you don’t get in the everydayness of life. We walk past a person and barely notice. But, time stops when a baby dies. Time stops at the end of our earthly lives, for a moment. And, we reflect on that was…all that we hoped for…all that could’ve been…all that will be.

Part of my job is to be a safe space in the place where heaven reaches down to kiss earth and time swirls with the past, present, and future. The other part is to help create within that space a time of celebration of the life we are about to welcome earthside, to capture the memories and the story, to help the parents get back a tiny piece of what feels stolen in that moment when we hear that a tiny heart stopped beating. I was honored to companion these beautiful parents and grandparents as they waited to meet baby Grayson…to capture the joy they felt when they met him, to help them get footprints and handprints that forever testify as tangible evidence that this very loved little boy lived here.

And today, I was greeted with hugs and gratefulness from Grayson’s family. As his grandparents read the words shared in our Walking With You for Grieving Grandparents book, they found sentiments that resonate in their own hearts. For a grandparent carries not only the grief they feel at the loss of their grandchild, but the pain of watching their child endure an agony they cannot fix. As Grayson’s brave mommy read a poem from the Dreams of You book about all that parents wanted for their sweet baby, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and strength shining from her momma-heart. Grayson’s daddy then gave his testimony…a powerful story of redemption and God’s grace. You’ve heard it said that there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still (Corrie Ten Boom). Not even the pits we dig for ourselves. He told a story of a life filled with regret and struggle…alcoholism passed down from father to son. Hitting rock bottom again and again…struggling to rid himself of the illness that gripped him. Even losing his love for a time. When God brought them back together through his precious stepdaughter, and through the years as he found sobriety, God gave him a son. And although all of his plans to redeem what had been broken in his relationship with his father would not come through years of a relationship watching his son grow up on Earth, there is still redemption. There is still beauty. There is still hope. Because for the time they had him, they loved him well. Because in the moments of great adversity…love and strength and grace prevailed. Because they filled the moments they were given with great beauty and songs and kisses and special gifts meant for their boy. Because they loved him his whole life. And, because he lives on. Because love lives on. And, because the impact of his life echoes throughout their lives and into eternity. We have the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest, because he lived and he lives. And, in the midst of their great grief, they embodied the gift of hope and promise of a future filled with love.

Comfort Care Honors Life, Too: Why Sometimes Medical Intervention Is Limited For Premature Babies

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  Recently an article was published that ignited outrage in the pro-life community, the baby loss community, and beyond. Twin babies were born alive at 22+ weeks, and medical intervention was not an option offered to them.  As I read the words, and the ensuing comments, my heart ached for the family…and for the medical [...]

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Sweet Eva: Miracles on Earth and in Heaven

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On this last day of Anencephaly Awareness month, we wanted to share the story of sweet Eva. Sufficient Grace Ministries Comfort Doula Kelly Gerken and SGM Remembrance Photographers: Erin Foster (maternity) and Kristi Bodey, along with the teams from Life Connection and Purposeful Gift had the privilege of walking with this family through their time [...]

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Arya’s Story

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  May is Anencephaly Awareness month. At Sufficient Grace Ministries, we wanted to share a couple stories of perinatal hospice families who have given birth to precious babies with this life-limiting condition. Comfort Doula, Kelly Gerken and Remembrance Photographer, Brittany Yankowski had the honor of walking with Brittany Lacourse and her family through their time [...]

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The Season of Womanhood No One Talks About

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  This season of womanhood has taken me by surprise. It isn’t just the slowing metabolism that leaves behind some less than welcome curves and cushion, or the merciless effects of gravity on my once svelt-ish middle-aged physique. Nor the hot flashes, the insomnia, or the myriad of uncontrollable emotions that were much more easily [...]

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I Danced

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Last Saturday morning, I walked with a family as they said goodbye to their baby. My heart ached for them as we created some tangible memories. I carried them with me…pieces of their pain, forever woven into the fabric of my heart. Every time I wash a tiny baby foot, the humbling privilege of washing [...]

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Embracing the Gift of Time: Micah’s Story

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  Over the last couple months we’ve had the honor of walking with the Wilhelm family as they waited to meet their son, Micah. I will let Micah’s mother, Jenna, share the details of their story below. But I wanted to share a bit from my own heart about our time with this beautiful family. [...]

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SGM Christmas Extravaganza 2016 Winners

Thank you to everyone who participated in the SGM Christmas Extravaganza 2016! Congratulations to the winners. Please email us your shipping address with the item(s) you won in the subject heading and or the text of the post to: sgm.shipping@gmail.com. Day One: Ornaments Ornament #1 goes to Talia Hammer Ornament #2 goes to Anna White [...]

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SGM Christmas Giveaway Day Five: Books!

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This year, we have been delving into some bible studies that can be life-changing. God’s Word is so powerful and life-breathing…and…alive. A great time to start a study is at the beginning of the year. So, Christmas is the perfect time to offer some of our favorites. We’ve included Seamless by Angie Smith (a study [...]

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