helping children grieve

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

david

By far, the worst thing about sending Baby D home has been watching our children grieve and attempting to help them wade through all those big feelings. We’re in no way experts on this grief and children thing, but we’ve been developing a bit of an ethos surrounding the subject.

Part of the broadening of our perspectives has been because we have so many children, and they grieve in such different ways. Personality plays a big role, age plays a big role, and we’re just learning it as we go along. This is exactly the way we hoped to be parenting our children. Not that we want them to experience pain, but we do know that they will experience pain. We want them to go through hard things while they’re still with us. They can watch us model how to go through difficulties in a healthy way, and we can guide them through healthy expressions of their own grief.

We have quite the spectrum of reactions amongst our children – one is melancholy, one is a stuffer, one shuts down, and the other one is…well…she deals with any kind of stress with nearly total dysregulation. We have quite a few different ideas and tricks that we’re attempting with each individual child to help them grieve in their own ways.

One of the more important things we’ve done is to ask for outside help. We contacted our school-aged kids’ teachers to let them know what was going on at home in hopes that if they noticed something at school, they would have greater understanding and be able to contact us when appropriate. This worked particularly well for our ‘stuffer’ child. She operates mostly on the surface, real feelings are shoved way down. She’s highly passionate and emotional, but deep stuff? No thank you. Her teacher encouraged her to email her at home the day Baby D left, and my sweet, sensitive, still waters run deep daughter wrote her the most heart-wrenching, beautifully expressed email. It was exactly what she needed to do in that moment, and I am unbelievably grateful for this teacher and her heart to help my daughter.

We’ve stepped up therapeutic interventions for our younger two. Brenden had kind of graduated from therapy for awhile, but we’re back at regular visits and regular therapy times at home as well. Niah will be back on the horses next week, which is a welcome relief given her overwhelmingly positive reaction to hippotherapy.

One of the other things we’ve done is encourage the kids to channel their grief in healthy ways. For the melancholy, this has been particularly challenging. He wasn’t sleeping, he was spending all night crying, and he was overwhelmed with negative emotions. It’s been a struggle to get him to recognize that while all of those negative emotions are perfectly ok, he cannot be controlled by them. He has to work them out. He can do that spiritually – through prayer, music, etc., he can do that physically – through exercise, healthy sleep habits, and he can do that relationally – continuing to be open with his reactions to us and to others. Watching us do the same sorts of things has been highly beneficial to him. We have to balance what he observes from us even as he sees us struggle with the raw pain of it. He has seen us cry, lean on one other, talk about the grief, and then he has seen us deal with all of that through healthy habits like exercise, eating right, sleeping well, taking time for prayer and solitude.

We’ve maintained an open atmosphere for talking about Baby D and how we feel about his move. We have pictures up; we have a copy of his lifebook for everyone to look at; we talk with regularity about the happy things we remember from when he lived with us. Our children continue to grieve in their own ways – one of them developed a physical tic, one of them uses pretend-play to continue to remember and interact with Baby D, one of them continues to be our talker, and the other one deals by writing and drawing out her pain.

It’s hard. It continues to be hard. One thing we’re certain of though is that it is right. We did exactly what we were supposed to do, exactly when we were supposed to do it. Our kids are in complete agreement. Even when they’re feeling the most sad and frustrated with the situation, they, without exception, express joy over Baby D’s place in our family and hope that we will continue to do this in the future.

 

Have you helped your children grieve something big? Or small? This post just began to touch on some of the things we’ve done, and I’d love to hear more ideas on ways to help them process.

saturday music: from my Lent playlist

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Each Saturday during Lent, I’ll share one of the songs from my playlist for these 40-some days. I shared this song last fall, but it needs repeating here. I read somewhere today or yesterday (and I can’t remember where, or I’d credit the author) that the focus of Lent often seems as if we’re spending the season anticipating a funeral. In fact, that’s not what we’re doing at all. This season is all about us looking forward to a wedding. We aren’t bound by the chains of death. One day, we’re gonna be standing before our Groom on our wedding day where death has no sting, and we’re all singing together…

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.

 

friday five from the interwebs

Friday, February 22, 2013

Today, I give you five links that I’ve been saving to share – a couple of them are quite old, but I needed to clean out my share folder. They had just never fit quite with a theme until now. Just for clarity’s sake, I do read more than three different blogs, but the bulk of the stuff you’ll see today come from two in particular. If you’re not reading A Deeper Story (they actually have three separate channels now, each as good as the other) and Storyline Blog, you should be. Even if I don’t have any time to read any other blogs on a particular day, those are two that I read no matter what. Add them to your reader!

 

The Broken Mothering the Broken - Amanda Williams at A Deeper Family
”Nothing will fix my mothering because no matter what I try, I am still the mother. It’s still me and I am still broken. As long as I’m broken my mothering will be broken and there is no book or seminar or prayer that can fix that.”

How One Woman Created a Community Out of a Neighborhood - Shauna Niequest at Storyline Blog
”Before the table, before this year, before the goal, these were strangers, but one came to a dinner with another friend, another showed up at Easter, another for brunch: community born and nurtured around the table.”

Real Failure or Why All of It Matters - Micha Boyett for A Deeper Church
”What makes something valuable? What makes anything in this tender and cracked world more important than anything else? …You may be doing the great work I dreamed of once, the brave work in the most broken places. But, you may also be living the most ordinary kind of life: one of laundry and dishes and children who scream at your attempts to raise them well. All of us are knit into the fabric of Christ; all of us are living in holy time.”

Grace for the Working Mother and her Guilt - Lisa-Jo Baker
”You are no less and no more than the mothers who get to stay home. God did not give them a pass and you a punishment. You do not need to apologize for the fact that you work. You do not need to be embarrassed.”

How My Faith Has Changed Since “Blue Like Jazz” - Donald Miller at Storyline Blog
”As you change, your relationship with God will change. A faith that does not evolve in time may be something more like a “belief” than a faith, that is an agreeing with a list of truths rather than a dynamic relationship between two living beings.”

 

Have you read something really great lately? Share it in the comments!

lent, observed

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Yesterday, I wrote some of my reflections about Lent; today is the practical resource day. Reading back through this post made me realize it sounds churchy and overly serious and spiritual, and if you know us, you know our home isn’t perfectly ordered and spiritually oriented. These are goals, mostly. They are practices – not something we already know how to do really well or are really successful at – just things that we are practicing. It’s not law. It’s not demanded. It’s just a bunch of different things all designed to help us connect with the One who loves us. Some of them might work, some of them might not. I guess what I’d like you to know is that this post is not prescriptive. At this point, I’m not even sure how accurately descriptive it is. It’s just a journaling of the ways that one mama is trying to bring a little spiritual discipline both into her lives and her children’s lives.

 

One of the things I’m focusing on this year is building more of a spiritual rhythm back into my day. With Baby D, we were on the road, gone for much of our day, and when we were home, it was naptime which was necessary both for babies and for mama. I lost many of the meaningful rituals in which I previously found comfort and depth and spiritual connection.

I’ve recommitted to a daily prayer schedule. There are lots of resources out there to help you with this, but I love The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle. There are four prayers daily – morning, midday, vespers (the evening prayers), and compline (just before bed). I don’t make it to all four prayers every single day, but my attitude towards life and more particularly, towards my children is best served when I’m setting aside even a brief few minutes throughout the day for regular prayer.

I have several different devotionals that I’m working through. Every morning, I’ve been reading the 2013 Lenten Devotional from The High Calling. (It’s available for free download in pdf form which I then emailed over to my Kindle app.) I’ve also been using the weekly devotional and Scripture readings from Devotions for Lent (Mosaic) which is quite inexpensive and also available for Kindle. Lastly, I’ve been reading Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement from Kris Camealy. It’s not really organized per day or even per week, but it’s been a pleasure to read bits and pieces here and there over the past few days. (She’s giving away pdf copies of the book during Lent, or you can also purchase the Kindle version or the print version on Amazon.)

One of the new things that I did for the children this year was make them a prayer corner. I put a little table and chair there with a Children’s bible, songbook, and a few books with prayers. We’ve already talked a bit about the things in our lives that we might need to let go of, and every week I plan to add a table activity that they can use to make things a bit more concrete. Next week it’ll be paper and pencils for some reflective artwork, the week after I have a plan involving some stones and a bit of water, and I’m considering other options for the remaining time that might help them tangibly process through some of these ideas. Raniah is not old enough to understand, but she is my little fearless prayer warrior so I hope to corral some of that as I work together with her.

One of the things that’s important for me and for our family to remember is that we are not concentrating on the darkness and emptiness of the season. I really want to echo with every activity, every conversation that this is about hope. We fast so that we can feast. We empty ourselves to be filled. We let go of negative things so that there’s space for the beauty and freedom and joy we need. That’s our focus. That’s our hope.

 

 

Do you observe Lent? What’s that look like for you this year?
Do you observe Lent with your children? What are some things you are doing as a family?

lent, reflected

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I know Lent started a week ago, but it’s all grace, yes? I struggled for days with what to give up this year without any clear direction. When inspiration struck, I knew to take hold without delay. I find immense value in the practice of Lent. Denying oneself. Fasting. Prayer. The emptiness of the season with the ever-present promise of fulfillment in the resurrection.

In the end, this year’s Lenten season is really about more intangibles than any specific vice or sacrifice that I’m making. I can give up smoking as easily as the next non-smoker, but what does it look like to live my life as sacrifice, to hold on to God in a new way? I read a blog post by Margaret Feinberg that really described it much better than I was able to put words to. Margaret proposes, “maybe the question we need to ask as we enter Lent isn’t, “What are you giving up for Lent?” as much as “What do you want to lay hold of during Lent?”

In that vein, there are things that I’m concentrating on putting behind this season. Namely: pride, insecurity, shame. Can I move forward in a confident, victorious free life with those things weighing me down? Not hardly. I’ve been humbled by the amount of time I spend being controlled by these negative emotions. Not at all walking in the freedom I know I have in Christ. Until I can put those aside in hopes of grasping hold of true humility, confidence, and freedom, I am continuing a negative cycle of emotions and thought patterns. I want to make room to lay hold of those things God has for me. The freedom that is found only when I lay myself and my selfish desires down at the foot of His cross.

Joel 2:13-14 (the message)
Change your life, not just your clothes. Come back to God, your God. And here's why: God is kind and merciful. He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot, This most patient God, extravagant in love, always ready to cancel catastrophe.

Join me? What do you need to let go of during Lent? What are you wanting to lay hold of as a result?

 

 

Coming soon: Resources I’m using both for myself and the kids as we observe this season in some practical ways

introversion?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ever take one of those personality tests? I’ve always been the same every time I took one growing up…until recently. I guess I knew that personalities can change; I just didn’t realize it had happened to me. I had some suspicions about these changes, so the other week, I decided to take a bunch of the free online tests. I’m too cheap to pony up the money for an unnecessary psychological test, but most of the stuff I read said these are fairly accurate, and if you take enough of them, you are likely to get a pretty clear consensus.

That’s precisely what happened. Out of twenty tests, 18 were the same. Introverted. Intuitive. Feelings-Oriented. Perceptive. (For the record, the last three didn’t change at all in any of the tests.)

Introverted? When did that happen??

I’ve always considered myself extroverted. My husband laughed when I said this is how the tests came out, but when we fleshed it out a bit, I think he understood it as well. While I had suspicions that I was becoming much more introverted, it was disconcerting to see it spelled out in test after test after test. Now, mind you, I haven’t turned into a hermit who has a panic attack when she’s with more than 5 people at a time. I don’t cry if I have to go into a crowd. The tests were about evenly split between ‘slight’ introvert and ‘moderate’ introvert.

Truth is, introversion doesn’t mean that you only want to be alone all the time. In my case, it really means that I need much more alone time than social time. I’m sure part of this is living with so many people in such a small space. Truly alone time is hard to come by. Another important factor is that I cannot remember the last day when I had no scheduled activity or event. I expect this will get better without a current foster placement, but I looked back through my calendar and literally cannot find a single day since last summer that I had nothing on the calendar. The fact is that right now I need to be alone to recharge. Being in public, at parties, with people all the time drains me dry. I need to recuperate and recover, and I need to do it by myself.

There is just something about learning this kind of thing about yourself, like I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. I’ve been berating myself privately for my change in personality. I had in my head that I was a certain kind of person, and when I was finding it increasingly painful and uncomfortable to be that kind of person, I felt like I was doing something wrong. Just learning about this a little more – that it’s ok and normal for personalities to change, that I’m not crazy or clinically depressed or doing something wrong – it’s been extremely freeing. I actually feel like I can say no to meetings without feeling guilty, like it’s ok to prefer a book to a party, like I don’t have to continually monitor myself to determine whether or not I need medication. Part of me wonders if I was really this personality all along but was just so uncomfortable with solitude and who I was that I forced myself into a different category. What I’ve learned this winter is that I can be happy with who I have become. I may not be this way forever, but it is who I am right now, and I feel like I’m starting to make peace with that fact.

 

 

*I had scheduled this post a couple weeks ago, and then last week, my facebook feed filled up with introvert memes. Coincidence??

tired

Monday, February 11, 2013

I am so tired. I feel like I could crawl up into bed and sleep for eight days straight. I need a vacation. Unfortunately, our upcoming vacation is already full of planned activities, and just thinking about it makes me even more tired.

I get that it’s mostly stress. On top of losing Baby D, my dad had a heart cath today which disclosed some serious blockage which cannot be treated except through meds. I’m sure they’re confident in their pharmaceutical interventions. I am less so, and now I have the guilt over always refusing a cholesterol check at the doctor’s since coronary artery disease is genetic. I’ll probably continue to refuse. It’s how I do.

The children are exhausting. I wish for my own time to deal and grieve, but there is ALWAYS a child who needs help through their own stuff. I have a crier, a stuff-the-feelings kid, one with a physical tic that manifested once this whole Baby D transition thing started, and one who just can’t regulate when she feels stressed. None of them are sleeping well. I have finally given up on naps for the littlest because it makes her go to sleep super fast at night. Now, it doesn’t keep her sleeping very long, and when she wakes up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning, she won’t go back to sleep. So my no-nap plan doesn’t result in her getting enough sleep, she is a holy terror all evening long because she’s so grumpy, but at least I’m not fighting her for two hours at naptime and then for another three at the end of an already long day.

All of that to say, I’m tired. Exhausted really, and there’s no time for physical and emotional rest. Tonight, I am thankful that my soul can find rest in God alone. (Psalm 62:1)

blessed and broken

Thursday, February 7, 2013

In the daylight, the goodbye seems like something I can handle. This is not exactly what we prayed and hoped for, but it’s the next best thing. We knew, we thought we were prepared, and yet, still, this is very nearly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how I disillusioned myself into believing this was going to be really hard only for the kids. Or that it was some sort of detached feeling of pain that I would be feeling. It came a bit unexpectedly, the feeling of helplessness. The thought that maybe I can’t actually handle this at all.

Last night, I laid him to sleep in his bed for the very last time, heart breaking wide open. I sang sweet songs, breathed words of blessing. Never more aware of the prayers surrounding us, covering our sweet boy. Never more grateful for the women in my life who are loving me through this - the ones who are calling just to see how I am, texting prayers of encouragement across the miles, emailing nearly every day, praying without ceasing, holding my hand, hugging me close, through all of it propping me up when my knees threaten to buckle beneath me.

Today, 11 months, almost to the very hour, from when he entered our home, we will drop Baby D and his last few belongings in his new home. One where he’s loved and safe, but one that is not quite yet his home with people who will not quite feel like his family. In a few short hours, he will belong to someone else. He always did, we know, but for too short of a time, he was ours too.

Today, I am broken.
Today, I am blessed.

 

 

about the kids–a redemption story

Monday, February 4, 2013

This post was in the works awhile ago, and when I read a couple other posts on the topic, (not to mention the trauma of moving Baby D right now) it seemed incredibly timely. If you want more perspectives on the effects of fostering on families, please visit this post at This High Calling.

 

Inevitably, when talking about foster care with anyone, the question comes back around to ‘our’ kids. What about them? What is this doing to them? Are they even safe? Don’t you have to consider the cost they’re paying?

We do. We have. The cost is great, this we know, but the rewards are far greater. It’s sort of unfair because they don’t really have a choice in this whole thing. They’re completely carried along in our journey, yet as integral a part of it as Wendell and I. We’re living this story as a family. We welcome as a family. We help to heal as a family. And over these next three days, we say goodbye as a family.

We cry together. We yell at each other because apparently the default position when faced with stress and grief is mad. (For all of us, unfortunately.) After the yelling, there’s many tears and much apologizing and talk about kindness and grace and letting us all just be sad and it’s ok. I was unprepared for how difficult it would be to shepherd our children through this grief. How helpless you feel when you can’t make it better. A sweet and godly friend who had lost both a child and a grandchild once shared with me that watching her daughter grieve the death of her child was far worse than grieving the death of her own child because she was grieving twice – once for her grandchild and once for her daughter. I get a tiny bit of that right now. Watching my children grieve this in their messy, childlike ways is far worse than it would be to grieve this loss on my own.

We know it’s hard. So when we talk to them, we tell them they’re doing a good job. That they’re awesome at this. Partly because they really and truly are, partly because it’s in our souls to aspire to be that which we are named. We tell them they were made to be a part of our family’s story, that our family’s story is just one part of the Great Big Story, and that they have such an important and essential role to play in it. One that no one else can do.

There is nothing Wendell and I want more than for our children to learn to live lives of sacrifice. Lives of love that cause them to lay down their lives in passionate pursuit of the One who not only called us but also showed us by example to do that very thing. Those are exactly the lessons they’re learning right now. There’s no earthly glory here. There’s no special title, no foster sibling appreciation day. This isn’t what the churchy people will call ‘the ministry’ or ‘missions'. The benefit of all that is that this not a theoretical pursuit for our children. They won’t grow up, leave our home, and have any question as to what a life of obedience may cost them. Is that not exactly what we should be wanting for our kids?

There’s a depth to our children that they wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t followed through with this calling. There’s a certain maturity to their souls that only going through hard things can develop. They are compassionate, empathetic defenders of the poor and powerless. They are fighters for justice, even if they don’t realize it. They are lovers of those most vulnerable and defenseless. They already know what it’s like to live in the messy corners of this world.

We’ve been confronted about their safety. We hear that, and we agree. Our children are not safe. They are definitely put at risk, but what has become so very powerful to us in this season is this: They are not scared. They welcome with open arms; they share without reservation. They go into homes, not at all like ours, and come out with only compliments and no judgments. They courageously share their opinions, their passion for this calling with anyone who asks. They charge ahead without hesitation, loving with their whole hearts.

We know this work isn’t pretty. We know it’s not safe. We know our kids are facing pain and risk that a lot of kids will never face in their childhoods. Here’s what I’m getting at though – it’s not about us. It’s about how our family’s story is one of many telling one great big Story – the Story of a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever love. The Story where God loves his children and comes to rescue them.*

This is a story about redemption.


*text from Sally Lloyd-Jones in the Jesus Storybook Bible

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