Thursday, May 14, 2015

"I can't imagine!" When some of us can

When a young man recently died in a car accident a few weeks ago, people looked at me and said,  "I can't imagine."

After hearing this sentiment a number of times, I said to a friend, "We don't want you to try."

People, especially fellow parents, go through life thinking that a dead child happens to other people.  I know I did. I had no clue what burying a child entails. 

Face caked with tears, flat on the ground, struggling to breathe. Hopeless. Meaningless.  Questions that will never have answers.

That is what losing a child does to you.  It's like being forced to wear a thick skin that covers every ounce of your skin and never comes off.  The first months after the death of a child are literally living a nightmare. Only there is one difference.  You don't wake up.

Eighteen years ago my son took his last breath.  I held his bloated body----swollen from fluids----touched his bald head----hairless from eight months of chemo---and watched the life escape his lungs.  He was my boy, my cherished Brave Cookie, my sticker-sharing-joke-telling second born.  He loved Toy Story, Little Foot,  and his siblings.  He once told me that he didn't want anything bad to happen to his mommy. He was four.

Up until that moment, I couldn't imagine either.  I thought God's comfort was big enough to hold me and take away my anguish, despair, agony, and sorrow. When my cousin lost her seven-year-old to a rare type of cancer four years prior to Daniel's death, I thought God would remove all her pain and wrap His arms around her so that she would be clenched in a special embrace and be given special powers to sail through the heartache.

But the pain of losing Daniel was so vast that I felt no comfort, no peace, no serenity. I was angry at God for not answering our prayers and Daniel's prayers for healing from his malignant tumor. In addition to my devastation, I now knew what my cousin had been through. She came to Daniel's funeral; I didn't realize what that took for her to do until much later.

I went to bed at night crying and woke up in tears.  I had no idea how I was going to live without my child. A hole had been ripped into my heart.  I was sure I would die from a broken heart.

They say that there is no time in Heaven.  I believe that grief is not part of time.  I think that grief is timeless, that the ache of missing a child does not fade with the passing of years.  

I haven't seen Daniel in eighteen years.  I'm now a seasoned-veteran of grief. How have I managed to come this far?  What seemed impossible on February 2, 1997, has been possible----I have survived!  But out-living a child is never easy and is daily work. Bereaved parents must work at it---contrary to popular belief, there is no sailing through. We learn to adapt, combat the platitudes, rediscover a new faith and trust in God, cultivate relationships, and all the while, continue to tell others about our sons or daughters.  One quote I like says, "I thought I would teach my child about the world, but I ended up teaching the world about my child."

Writing through the fears, sorrow, and yearning has helped me, and therefore, I've become an advocate for grief-writing. I pull others into my tribe, facilitating workshops, teaching what has worked for me. We write for hope, for health, for healing. I fight against easy answers, I challenge people to look at life differently. Allowing yourself to relinquish continual uncertainties into the hands of a God of Mystery is the ultimate freedom from trying to figure it all out.

I'm in good company.  Some of the best relationships I've made have been after Daniel's death with those who "get" me.  They, too, have lost a child to death.  We never utter small talk; our conversations are as real as red clay dirt, messy sometimes, but heartfelt. We stand together and lift balloons into the sky and light candles at Christmas.  

My husband and I carve memorials from wood. Our personalized plaques have been ordered by bereaved parents all over the world. 

My world expands; my grief for others who have to bury a child too soon grows. I see the photos of their children year after year on Facebook and know they are trying to do the best they can. 

This is the life unimagined. This is how we live.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Guest Post: Anne Payne

I asked my friend, Anne Payne, if I could share her poem on my blog today.  So glad she said I could.  Here is a guest post from her, including her beautiful flower photo.


Today, May 13th, marks the third anniversary of my oldest daughter, my firstborn, being ushered into her eternal home. I wrote this poem during the Writing the Heartache grief workshop by author Alice Wisler, a grieving mom herself. Writing has been instrumental in the grief process and I haven't shared much of it, but today I wanted to share this poem. Amy had delicate hands and she loved to have them held. And I loved to hold them. I miss that. I miss her.


tiny and weak

your newborn hands,

cradled protectively

within my own,

sweet kisses from my lips

cover them in prayer.

slender and cool

your delicate hands,

entwined  gently

within my own,

hot tears and desperate kisses

blanket them in prayer.

warm and strong

your beautiful hands,

reaching out

enfolded safely,

for all eternity

held by Another.

creased and worn,

my cold hands

rest empty,

wet with tears


silent prayers.

 By Anne Payne
April 24th 2013

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Guest post: Betty Winslow


By Betty Winslow in memory of her daughter, Lisa

When the door opened, my world rocked on its axis.

The uniforms said my daughter, my firstborn, was dead.


Time stood still as I absorbed the scream inside,
then rushed by as I went to tell my world.


Her damaged body was put into the earth unseen.
My arms ached to hold her just once more.


The shock wore off as the pain wore on and on,
but God’s song filled the hole His call to her had left.


Someday, I’ll hear His voice calling me.
I’ll leave this place of sorrow and I’ll join them.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Making It Real: An All-Day Writing Workshop

I love it when people ask when my next all-day writing workshop will be. These workshops produce so much wonderful discovery, spiritual growth, and encouraging fellowship between those who attend. We eat, share, write, cry, and drink lots of tea and coffee. The meeting room is a large conference room at the Hampton Inn in Raleigh/Cary, North Carolina.

So since there is an interest, now there will be a workshop!

This all-day workshop is open to anyone who wants to discover the benefits of writing from heartache. There are many sorrows in life; writing through them brings healing, health and hope! Join us if you are going through or have been through a rough season and want to find helpful ways to pen your anger, lessons learned, frustration, or even joy. Let's be authentic! Let's make it real.

Be sure to sign up today to get the Early Bird Special!

Making It Real:

An All-Day Workshop of

Writing From the Heart

Date: Saturday, August 8, 2015

Time: 9:00 AM to 4 PM

Location: Hampton Inn and Suites

111 Hampton Woods Lane, Raleigh, NC 27607

Phone:(919) 233-1798

Facilitated by Alice J. Wisler

Alice is a bereaved mother, author of six novels, one devotional, a cookbook compiler (in memory of children), freelance writer, social worker, and instructor of many writing through grief workshops. She travels the country presenting her workshops of healing, health and hope.

In addition to having plenty of time to freely write, we'll focus on the following:

*Emotions in writing and how to make them real in our work

*How to write realistic dialogue

*What to leave in, what to keep out of our writing

*Tips for self-critiquing our own work

* Learning from the Greats --- how to write better prose

* Discovering our unique voices in our writing

* How to help others through our tough seasons

A light breakfast and lunch, as well as snacks, will be provided and are included in your workshop fee.

What you need to bring:

*Your own notebook or journal

*A comfortable pen

Click here to: Sign up today!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Guest blogger: Connie Stevens

Today I welcome Connie Stevens to the Writing the Heartache Blog. Good to have you here, Connie.


After my son died in 2006, my writing took a hiatus. I couldn’t find it within me to create anything, much less a happily-ever-after. So I fell back onto the profusion of Post-It notes stuck throughout my Bible on which I had scribbled down my thoughts, prayers, devotions, and those precious nuggets God gave me during the months of our cancer journey. These heart lessons became lifelines, pulling me from the depths of my grief, and for months I worked rewriting those notes. The compilation turned into a collection of devotionals that was rejected by every publishing house to which I submitted. Despite discouragement blending with my ongoing sorrow, I decided perhaps the writing of the devotionals was purely therapeutic—part of my own healing process. But I was still at loose ends, not only in regards to the direction for my writing, but also my own self-identity.

While I was comforted by God’s constant assurance that Jonathan was Home and safe and whole and cancer-free, there was a raw, gaping wound in my heart. Jonathan was healed, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t a mother anymore, I wasn’t a caregiver anymore, and it seemed I wasn’t a writer either.

The story I had begun at the time of my son’s illness languished in my files. When I pulled it up and looked over the storyline, it read as though someone else had written it—someone I didn’t know. The characters were strangers—Who were these people? Nothing about the synopsis felt familiar. I closed the file and stared at the blank screen.

I sought God’s face and asked, “Lord, where do I go from here? If You want me to continue to write, show me. How do I pick up the shattered brokenness of my heart and assemble the fragments back into a whole?”

Leaning on the Lord’s strength, I made myself pull that barely-started manuscript back out. If He was still calling me to write, He would give me the story and help me breathe life into the faceless characters. So I labored over the chapters, but no matter how long or hard I worked, there was still something missing.

Later that year I took my hollow story to a novelist retreat. One of the workshops, taught by the best-selling, award-winning author, DiAnn Mills, was about injecting more emotion into the opening scene. She started out by instructing everyone to take a sheet of paper, close their eyes and think of the worst thing that ever happened to them. Blindsided, I sat paralyzed for the space of several seconds. What could be worse than sitting at the bedside of my only child and watching him take his last breath? Then DiAnn did the unthinkable: she instructed us to write out the scene.

I stared at the blank paper. Could I actually craft the words to depict the events of that moment when I said my last goodbye? I had never considered writing it all out. Writing the devotionals had been different. They were kisses of truth God taught me during the darkest days of our cancer journey. But forming the words to spill my most heart-rending emotions onto the page—could I do that?

Oh God, how do I slice open my heart and lay it bare and vulnerable, throwing light on the hidden, secret places of my grief?

I pushed the pen across the paper and the words began to flow along with my tears. DiAnn stepped quietly to my side and gently whispered if the exercise was too hard, I didn’t have to do it. It was then I realized that, yes, I did have to do it. For more than three years since Jonathan’s Home-going, I had kept my deepest sorrow shuttered away when all the while God was patiently waiting for me to simply trust Him with my most private emotions.

Through the vehicle of putting words on paper—and some gentle prodding by a godly mentor—my imprisoned emotions found freedom. The scene spilled out, barely a trickle at first, but gaining momentum, until a waterfall cascaded forth. I wrote it all—the pain, the conflict, the bewilderment, the guilt, the anguish of my heart--until I was spent.

Then DiAnn told the class to use those same emotions and rewrite the opening scene of our stories, and give those emotions to our characters. For the first time, I saw my character breathe. Her pulse pounded in my ears, and her tears flowed down my cheeks. Her voice echoed from my heart when I infused her with those intimate emotions I’d kept sequestered for so long.

I had not considered my fiction writing as an outlet for the feelings I’d bound up. I had come to realize people didn’t understand the depth of my grief, and that was okay. I didn’t expect them to understand. I praised God they didn’t understand, and prayed they would never understand. But here was a way—cracking open the doorway to allow people to glimpse a shattered heart and perhaps in doing so, they could gain a new perspective into compassion.

2nd Corinthians 1:3-4 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. God does not comfort us to make us comfortable. He comforts us to make us comforters. If God can use my grief to minister to another heart, if He can use my writing to illustrate compassion, then I’m willing to let Him have all of me. He has made anew my perspective into the direction for my writing, and He didn’t waste a single one of my tears.

~ By Connie Stevens
Connie Stevens lives with her husband of forty-plus years in north Georgia, within sight of her beloved mountains. She and her husband are both active in a variety of ministries at their church. A lifelong reader, Connie began creating stories by the time she was ten. Her office manager and writing muse is a cat, but she’s never more than a phone call or email away from her critique partners. She enjoys gardening and quilting, but one of her favorite pastimes is browsing antique shops where story ideas often take root in her imagination. Connie has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2000. You can read more about her books at this Amazon link.

Connect with Connie:
Website & blog:
Twitter: @AuthorConnie

Latest releases:
Threads of Time Also at Amazon
A Place of Refuge

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quotes on love and loss

Here are some quotes I find true about love and loss.

Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. -Henri Nouwen

She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. ~ George Eliot

I measure every grief I meet with narrow, probing eyes - I wonder if it weighs like mine - or has an easier size.
~ Emily Dickinson

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. -- Kenji Miyazawa

The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death.- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil. ~ John Taylor

Friday, March 13, 2015

Easier than what?: A mother looks at life without

There's a part of me that died that winter's night.

Illusions. Myths. Platitudes. An old way of looking at faith and life. My future as I'd anticipated it. The ability to be "normal".

A part of me died when my child breathed his last.

I suppose that a part lived, too.

The hope that life can be okay again. That by treasuring my son and the memories of who he was, I can be his memory keeper. I share him and because of this, the world can be a brighter place.

Oh, I have learned the value of so many things. Yes, I can still see the glass half full. My Daniel lived; he loved. I keep all that in my heart.

But every so often this extroverted person I once was just wants to retreat and be alone with her pen and paper. Talk to God. Walk alone on the beach. Not have to play nice or join in the conversations about other people's children. Or other people's small problems that they get so worked up about.

Sometimes so much gets bottled up inside me and I have to let go.

I cry over simple things. Or just feel overwhelming sadness. Over the years, I don't struggle to "feel better". I know how to let these emotions run their course. It's okay to be sad. It's all right to step away from the crowd. And if I grow frustrated that I can't always participate like others can, that's fine, too.

I channel my frustration by writing. I write from the turmoil and as I do, I've been able to produce some beautiful things.

So the question is raised: Does it get any easier?

Easier than being woken to tapes in your mind that replay the horror of watching a four-year-old die and you are helpless to save him? Easier than aching for his hand in yours? Easier than shopping for everyone else and not being able to surprise him with a toy?

You can't erase love. Love remains just as strong and passionate as it was when he was with me on earth.

It's not easy to love for the rest of your life someone you can't see and can only feel in your dreams and memories.

Life does go on. Problems continue to find you. The other children you have have bad days and your mother's heart aches. Life ain't for wimps.

But you know that. It's chiseled in your core. You know a child can die.

And that when he is gone, it means forever on this earth. No more picnics. No more smiles. No more watching all your children grow up together.

Does it get any easier?



It depends on the day of the week, the time of the year. Some days you think you're strong. While other days, especially those insignificant days, you feel like a puddle.

It's all about adapting. Adjusting. Knowing when to bring the tissues.

Perhaps that's what becomes easier. Our ability to cope. Not our ability to live without. Just cope with the without.