There are thousands of blogs out there on how to parent and how not to parent, and every point of the spectrum seems to be touched-on when it comes to what ‘type’ of parenting style you should choose. This post, by no means, is a ‘how to’ sentiment.
In my opinion, parenting is love put into action. It can’t be much of anything else because so much action and so much love is demanded and necessary for the job. It’s non-stop work on the soul with lots of play in between so that’s why parents are tired all the time! Love put into action can take on many forms, and parenting is full of different stages and purposes so for that reason I will not even bother painting an image of what parenting should look and feel like because I’m not sure of it myself, but recently my husband and I have felt called to share our perspective on parenting after loss. In opening up about our parenthood with a new awareness of life’s fragility, our hope is to let you know that you are not alone in these thoughts and worries, that you do in fact encounter a strange kind of bereaved-parenting, and that hope can be pulled from the scars.
Laying in the dark, listening for noise, leaping out of bed to check once again that your child is breathing… Bracing yourself always, for the worst.
Flashing back, flashing forward, immediately worrying that silence or a phone call means death.
Fearing the worst when your living children complain of anything out of the ordinary.
Saying no to anything too far out of your control for fear that you may be saying goodbye to your loved one for the last time.
Absolutely cringing when you witness people doing anything dangerous or taking their children’s lives for granted.
This list could go on for quite awhile but you get the point. The main commonality my husband and I have noticed when listening to other bereaved parents is the appreciation for every day/moment we are given and the anxiety of knowing that life is so very fragile and can be gone in a second.
Living with these fears can cripple a parent and their relationship with their God, spouse, children and peers. I remember listening to one mom describing her struggle with OCD and another couple who couldn’t bring themselves to have children again since losing their child in utero. It is hard, hard work to keep the fear in check. I, for one, have struggled with an anxiety that can effect me physically, so know that I do not pretend to have figured any of this out.
This new place we find ourselves in as parents means realizing new things about ourselves, about this life, and about death (which obviously has been around forever, but is different when it takes a child). I recently read an article from a Grieving Mom to a NON-Grieving Mom that put into words what our hearts were already experiencing. It might shed some light on how learning to live with this ‘anguish’ would affect everything about you, including your parenting.
Have you ever been in a store, at a park, in a crowded area filled with strangers and turned around to suddenly realize that your child has disappeared? Do you know the feeling of panic that ensues? Are you familiar with that terror? That ‘aloneness’? That horror? The utter confusion that envelops you? The trepidation that is felt in every fiber of your body? That momentary feeling that your heart simply forgot its next beat? The initial denial that is suddenly transformed into terrifying anguish?
. . .
If you can relate to this, then imagine it continuing on for hours, days, weeks, months, years…. Imagine being forever lost in this endless torment of crying out with every fiber of your being for your child that has disappeared. If you are able to relate to this for even a moment, you have for this moment, tried on my shoes.”
Much of the pain we encounter in our parenting with stitched hearts is this crying out for a child who is no longer here. It is love, wanting to be put into action for that specific child, but with nowhere to go, so it often manifests itself in a fear of some other impending death or a struggle to have joy because the void cannot be filled – the ‘crying out’ will not be silenced. It is a battle to stay present, to refocus over and over again on what IS and to leave the rest to God’s power and will. What is God’s will in all of this anyway? This place where our family feels broken but is also continuing on? I know that evil would like to rob us of any good, but God has much to give through our parenting children on earth and in heaven.
“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.”
For example, when we watch our living children play, we soak in the moment like none other because this moment is a gift from God. We snuggle extra long, we kiss our babies EVERY night, we don’t hesitate to say something kind, deep or sometimes challenging to others because NOW is the time to say it. We let the small stuff slide – life is too short to avoid not getting dirty, staying up late, and experiencing hard but good things. Life is too fleeting to put God aside for a more convenient time. Heaven is real in our house – our children’s brother lives there so we talk about him and his joy as if we were talking about the neighbor friend going to summer camp. We wonder about what he’s done ‘today’ and we send him love notes in our prayers every night.
Speaking of prayers, parenting with stitched hearts means praying A LOT. Asking God for help, for the ability to trust, to love like him, to teach our living kids well and to help us all to heaven. Like all parents we worry if we’re doing it right and with the added fear and “down days” when your heart is so broken, it’s easy to fail in one way or many. We have found that praying from the heart as a family brings about the closest thing to healing and it allows us to reflect on our day, to be thankful, and to ask God and our saintly brother for guidance.
Fear is most definitely NOT the answer, nor the parenting style or lifestyle my husband and I wish to use. It is a symptom of the scars, it can be valid, but it should not be the inspiration. On our good days we remember to question what it is that we fear and why. If death is what we’re fearing, with faith that fear should be consoled. Death is not the end, only a spiritual death is worthy of being feared. Ecclesiastes 3:11 is so profound… “He has set eternity in the human heart;” Hasn’t death been stitched into our hearts? Pierced by the pain of realizing that life is fragile and fleeting? That we will never get to kiss our children again? On some days none of it seems to have a purpose, just so. much. pain. Rather than death, we must realize that eternity is what we are being made aware of, it’s absolutely brutal, but good, so good that “…no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
God has set heaven on our hearts as bereaved parents and our lucky children get to be there sooner than we do. Soak this thought in, and let that love wash over you Mom and Dad, let it inspire every day of your life here, every encounter with others, every act of love for your children. Living with this fear and struggle is in no way easy, but it can be good too. We pray for you!
Love, The Edmans