God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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The Empty Buckets

There is a side to compassion that we don’t often talk about – it’s compassion fatigue. This topic is hard to write about, but through this blog I have been vulnerable, so I am going to stay true to my purpose in blogging and keep it real.

My definition of compassion fatigue:

Being weary and fearful to the point of lessening my ability to respond to friends, family and humanity with empathy, love, tenderness, kindness and concern. Having no “white space” or capacity for others in need and maybe even walking away from or running from the people in my life who are hurting.

I honestly admit that I’m aware that there are days when I have compassion fatigue toward other people and I believe others, at times, may have it toward me.

Soon after my losses, many people were there for me with positive words and actions. I’ve definitely noticed over time that the phone calls, texts, cards, emails, coffee dates, invitations to meals have lessened.

I don’t think this lack of communication is because people don’t care – people are busy and I am a person who represents an unusual, significant loss. In my mind, the inner story I create is that others may perceive that it’s hard to take the time to have a meaningful conversation with me. So rather than appear flippant, he or she may stop reaching out – weeks and months go by without contact and then before you know it – the relationship may end.

So what’s the answer? A step in the right direction is to proactively think about the circumstance and relationship.

Here’s an analogy – living a life grieving is similar to living a life in poverty and hunger. For me personally, my two relational buckets, as daughter and mother-of-a-daughter, are now empty. This hunger, or lack of relational connection to people who I cherish, cannot be refilled; it’s empty. There’s a bottomless void in these buckets. These empty buckets are mine to carry.

You have your empty buckets to carry.

We see one another’s empty buckets and may think, “Wow, that bucket is deep. I don’t have capacity to fill that bucket – it’s scary dark in there. I’ve reached out and helped already, but I can’t personally fill his/her bucket. I don’t have time or energy. I’ve got my own stuff going on. The best thing I can do is avoid or lessen contact so I either don’t fall in that bucket or I’m not depleting my bucket trying to fill her/his bucket.”

So we stop calling, emailing and visiting.

I’ve heard parents who’ve lost children share how after their children died they sadly lost their very best, lifelong friends. I’m sure there is more than one reason that these endings happen, but there is a consistent theme of relationship endings after the death of a child.

How do we lessen compassion fatigue in our hearts?

I believe that we can lessen compassion fatigue by having a realistic perspective about the state of our two, “life perspective buckets” – the abundance bucket versus the scarcity bucket. The scarcity mindset says, “I have insufficient productive resources to fulfill other people’s wants and needs.” The abundant mindset says,  “I have a plentiful amount of personal resources to share. I am wealthy spiritually and emotionally and will extend a consistent hand of care toward others who hurt.”

Mother Teresa is someone who had an abundant “life perspective bucket.” I recently saw the movie The Letters; her personal story intrigued me. I took the next step and read the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. Her desire was to serve the poorest of the poor in Jesus’ name. She knew that the way to connect with the poor was to enter into their emotional, spiritual and physical poverty, not write them checks or create a plan for them to improve their lives. Mother Teresa selflessly emptied her physical resource bucket and loved the hurting people next to her – also with empty buckets.

In the world’s eyes her life was one of scarcity, yet she leaned into her love for God and others. God, in her, multiplied her ability to love abundantly. No one can deny her many small acts of kindness overflowed and became an ocean of abundant kindness with positive ripples around the world. Her legacy challenges me.

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Photo: From Site Interesting Facts about Mother Teresa

I want learn about and grow in the depths of true compassion – compassion that never grows weary. Compassion without fear. Mother Teresa is an excellent role model in this area, don’t you think?

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When the Floaties Slip Off

 

Floaties are really amazing inventions – great ways to keep little kids who can’t swim above the water. They open up the world of pools, lakes and oceans to children and even adults. Less cumbersome than full-out life vests, they provide support in aqua.

I remember getting floaties for my kids when they were small. The kids looked so cute in them as they laughed and splashed. We’d also call them “water wings” kinda after angel wings. They helped take the fear of the water away, which is a good thing.

But there are two, key drawbacks to floaties: 1) They give the illusion of safety and 2) they postpone the desire to learn to swim. Both of these drawbacks can create mild to serious consequences for the long-term development of a person’s ability to swim.

As I think about floaties, I see them as a metaphor for the things in life that hold me up. Resources that help me stay above the water and not submerse.

My life floaties are family ties, friendships, a nice home, good health, work, career, income, etc. These are all good and beautiful gifts in life.

What happens though is that, when one of these life floaties slips off, as they inevitably will, it’s as though the gentle, calm pool becomes a raging ocean.  What was calm and peaceful, my life, turns into an unsafe and scary environment. My mind bobs and kicks and struggles to stay confident and in control.

I look around me and see others gliding with their floaties still on and admire how in control and relaxed they appear. I think, “Wow, floating is so easy for them, that’s not fair. I want my floatie back.”  And that’s on a good day. On a bad day, I’m angry and bitter and I think, “It’s not right that my floatie was taken away. It’s cruel and unusual punishment.” In my total frustration, I’ve lost my ability to tread water.  I’m thrashing about and entirely miserable. And if both floaties slip off, deep trouble is on its way.

My safety net is gone and there’s nothing between me and H2O. What held me up is no longer present – the friendship slipped away, my career unexpectedly shifted, my house needs serious repair and on and on. The water, my environment, has entirely changed from peaceful to a substance that threatens my well-being.

It’s at this point, I have a decision to make. Do I panic or take a deep breath and start swimming?  The problem is that my arm muscles are atrophied because they weren’t used because of the floaties. If I start the breast-stroke, I feel intense cramping and sharp pain as the muscles begin to do their job. It is hard to move forward.

Yet with each move, I feel a building of the muscle that has always been there; I didn’t even realize its potential. I can make it to safety – one stroke after another – after another – after another. It takes awhile, but now I’m almost gliding through the bouncing waters because my muscle power has kicked in  and I am getting stronger in a substance that could easily pull me under.

I’m learning this truth – in losing external support I have a decision to make. Will I be open to swimming and moving forward? Or will I either thrash about or become immobile in my uncertain environment?

It hurts to build muscles in circumstances that either I don’t like or don’t chose. Much preferring to regenerate muscles on my terms, real life doesn’t always cooperate. The waters of life are not in my control as I thought they were when my floaties gave me the illusion of security.

Learning to swim stronger, when the waters aren’t flowing my way, is the desire of my heart. My mental, relational, professional, emotional and spiritual muscles always need toning. And I trust that if I chose to swim after losing external support, there’s a ready and waiting Life Guard by my side who offers an internal life preserver.

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Your first breath to last

There are so many things I want to say to you.

I’ve already had my chance.

All the words to be shared have been spoken.

At least on earth.

I hope an angel delivers these words to you today –

Leah, I am thinking about the fact that

I was there for your first breath … and your last.

And grateful to be present for both.

Some parents do not have this opportunity.

I am truly honored to have held you at both times.

You came into this world two weeks early and quickly.

What should have been a regular check-up, accelerated to the delivery room.

No time for medicine – all natural childbirth.

Never having felt such pain before, I was so glad you arrived that I didn’t even ask if you were a boy or girl.

Exhausted, as I cradled you in my arms, I heard a soft, repetitive, rumbling sound coming from you.

“What’s my baby doing? Is she ok?” I asked the nurse.

“Oh, she’s a purrer,” the nurse confidently replied.

So sweet. I’ll never forget your soft purrs.

15 years and 5 months later, I once again was holding you close.

Knowing that this time, I’d be saying goodbye not hello.

The pain of watching you suffer was so deep that my heart wanted you released from your suffering.

I wanted your spirit to be free – just like a butterfly is released from its cocoon to the sky.

When I lifted you to make you more comfortable, you took your last breath.

As difficult as that moment was, I was grateful that I was with you.

There’s no other place in the world that I’d rather have been – both times.

Both situations were painful – one was a physical pain, the other a heart pain.

Before you got sick, I remember thinking about my own death – that I’d want

you, your brother and dad by my side as I took my last breath.

Instead I was there for yours.

I treasure the tender moments of your inhaling and exhaling.

So proud to be your mom sweet girl – from breath to breath.

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Note: In the midst of such deep sadness in losing my girl, I have moments of gratitude. On my walk yesterday, I had this thought – that I was grateful to be there for Leah’s first and last breaths. I realize some parents do not have this opportunity for various reasons. For me, I hold onto these experiences and they strengthen my love. I say these words to Leah today and share them with you all as encouragement to all parents, whether their children are still with them or not. The bond of parenting is unlike anything else on earth. Please let’s all cherish our moments with our children as they are made. And hold onto the love and memories of children who are no longer with us – until we are with them again.