Resources for Those Who Grieve

DSCF0569When someone dies, and we are enveloped by our own grief, the thought of explaining what has happened to a child or grandchild can be truly overwhelming. Whether the death is sudden or is the culmination of an extended period of grieving, finding the right words is so, so hard.

A few years after our children came to us, our family pet — a much beloved border collie named Missy — was hit by a truck. Judging by the pile we found by the side of the road, she couldn’t have suffered. But the horror and shock quickly gave way to a kind of numbness that felt like swimming through mountains of batted grey cotton. Jut awful.

“I’ll bury her, if you tell the kids,” Craig offered. I’m not sure who got the harder task. All of us cried as I held the kids and waited for the initial tears to subside. “Why did Missy have to DIE?” Chris asked.

The simple answer was not the right answer. Missy died because she escaped the confines of our yard and wandered into a busy street. But this is not really what my son was asking. He had endured so much loss already — nearly his entire original family, except his sister. Why had God allowed so much pain to enter into one little life?

“When God sends a baby into the world,” I found myself saying, “He sends three things along: a gift to share, a burden to carry, and a job to do. When that job is done, if we stay close to God, he takes us back to heaven to be with him forever. Christopher, you have already been such a gift to us, and you have so much more to share. The burdens you have carried are so very big, and so very hard. I can only imagine that one day God is going to give you a VERY special job to do. Something that you could only do if you stayed very close to God. All that you have suffered, all that you have lost, can help you stay close to God if you choose. God does not cause our pain — he cries along with us, when he sees us suffer. And he always helps us carry it if we ask.”

I meant every word. And as the years went by, I realized that my son had heard me not just with his ears, but with his heart. He still feels the loss, but he trusts in the goodness of God. This, I think, is the best we can hope for when we explain death and grief to our children, that they understand that (1) death is a part of life and (2) suffering is never wasted when we offer it back to God.

In my last article, about starting the adventure of elder care with my mother, I mentioned that a woman named Jennifer Scott had sent me links to a couple of articles about coping with grief. These are not written specifically from a faith-based perspective. However, I think the information about what children are capable of handling at various developmental stages is useful, and so I wanted to offer it here as a resource for you.

Saying Goodbye: Talking to Kids About Death

Preparing for the Death of a Terminally-Ill Loved One: What to Expect, and How to Help the Entire Family Move Forward

Letting Children Share in Grief

The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work

How to Create a Peaceful At-Home Hospice for Your Loved One

Keeping the Peace While Settling a Family Estate

5 Things You Must Know as the Executor of an Estate

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Rest in God

sleeping-dogsYesterday the W.I.N.E. blog posted a short article called “Shepherd of My Heart,” about the need every soul has to rest in the mercy of God. (It’s a short, easy read – a slice of life from the Saxton household featuring Maddie, our Aussie shepherd.)

Like any good parent, God is relentless in his love and care for us — perhaps especially when we are struggling. Today’s first reading reminds us of another side of God, the disciplinarian who loves us too much to let us remain ensnared by sin.

Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.

Say not: “Great is his mercy;…

My many sins he will forgive.”

For mercy and anger alike are with him;

Upon the wicked alights his wrath.

Delay not your conversion to the LORD,

Put it not off from day to day.

Sirach 5:1-8

None of us knows for sure how much time she has on the  hourglass of life. Life is fleeting and fragile, and eternity is forever. The good news is that God has provided a way for us to rid ourselves of the toxic habits and unwanted burdens we carry, cleansing us in the sacrament of reconciliation and strengthening us in the Eucharist. Those who are sick and suffering can also avail themselves of the graces of the sacrament of anointing, to give them strength for the journey.

We need not fear death. Something greater is in store for each of us if we spend our lifetime following Christ. So rest in God . . . and keep short accounts.

God bless you! Pray for me as I head to Minneapolis for the W.I.N.E. conference on Saturday!

How Stubborn Is She?

grettaToday a new phrase has been added to the Saxton family lexicon: “As stubborn as a Chiweenie in the rain.” You would think that a reasonably intelligent, generously proportioned middle-aged woman would be able to persuade a twelve pound ball of trembling dogflesh (at least five of those pounds water, from having refused to go out to pee the previous night for fear of rain AND dark) to go outside long enough to tinkle.

You would be wrong.

You can almost hear the soundtrack, courtesy of Dr. Seuss:

“I will not tinkle in the rain.
I will not tinkle near that drain.
Won’t tinkle here or there, you’ll see
I really DO NOT HAVE TO PEE.
I’ll slip my harness … it’s not that hard!
Now chase me cross the neighbor’s yard!”

Funny thing is, it feels like I’ve been through this before. Though of course a child’s worth is infinitely higher than a dog, I’ve used many of the same skills in helping this newest “member” of our family adjust to life chez Saxtons as we used to help the kids adjust when they first arrived.

For example, Gretta has for her first few days here resorted to hiding in hard-to-reach places like under my bedside table or underneath the bed in exactly in the middle of the mattress. Yes, I could have grabbed and forced her out – but that would hardly have built trust (and could have resulted in a mini-bite). Instead, we spoke to her kindly, offered food and water periodically, and eventually she came out on her own.

Similarly, when one of the kids took to hiding under tables, my gentle giant of a husband never raised his voice or demanded that the child in question come out. Instead he picked up a bowl of Cheetos and let them do their magic. First a nose, then a questing hand . . . soon Chris was perched next to his new foster dad, munching merrily away.

As I look outside, I realize it has stopped raining. I’d better get the dog. Make … um … spray(?) while the sun shines!