My seventeen-year-old-daughter had shown signs of improvement. Taking her newly-prescribed medication for depression and anxiety, she appeared to be coping better … at least that’s what I thought. Then I discovered what I hoped I would never see again—blood on her sheets and red-stained tissues in the trash. Noooooo!
In addition, my husband and I had repeatedly caught her drinking and smoking. All the consequences we tried had no effect. Overwhelmed with fear and desperate for answers, I was a mess. Help, God! I don’t know how to walk through this kind of despair. All I can see is doom and destruction looming on the horizon. And I’m so sad. I’m so very, very sad.
My emotional upheaval made perfect sense: constant tears, an ache in my gut, pressure on my chest. The proverbial invisible elephant took up residence there, squeezing the life out of me. Other symptoms plagued me as well: loss of concentration and an inability to focus; insomnia; a poor appetite; rapid heartbeat and uncontrollable shaking. What’s wrong with me?
One day another seasoned parent of a prodigal asked: Dena, did you know you are grieving?
No. I didn’t know. I had no idea. Now my concerning symptoms made sense.
As parents of troubled sons and daughters, we grieve the death of the hopes and dreams we had for them. They’re still alive, yet we mourn.
Reasons We Grieve
We grieve for many reasons. Our child has:
- Walked out of our life and rejected us. They no longer want our company, wisdom, or love..
- Our child has a substance use disorder (SUD) with alcohol and/or drugs. Overdoses, rehabs, and incarcerations litter their story.
- Our child has been (or is) suicidal; they’re in a dark place of hopelessness. They may have made more than one attempt to end their life.
- Our child is incarcerated; in jail or prison, maybe a repeat offender; part of us dies every time you visit or are denied a visit.
- Our child struggles with a mental health diagnosis. They might have been suicidal and made more than one attempt to end their lives. They’ve possibly been hospitalized and refused ongoing treatment.
- Our child has made gender/sexuality decisions that we never imagined would happen. They have pursued transgender protocols or are in a relationship with the same sex; possibly have married them and have children together.
Four Practices to Help us Cope
photo cred.Mike Labrum on Unsplash
When our child is not doing well heavy, dark emotions can take over and ruin our lives. Disheartened, miserable, and depressed, how can we cope? How can we mourn in a healthy way?
We can follow these 4 practices:
- Give yourself permission to weep. It’s okay to grieve and lament. To express grief is not unspiritual. Although our culture handles loss poorly, it is a healthy response to the emotional pain of loss.To show heartache is uncomfortable for most of us. We hold back. We suppress our emotions and hide them.
The truth is, parents like us have lost a great deal. Our pain is real and deep and worthy of sorrowing over.
But God welcomes us to express the sadness we feel. Large portions of the Psalms are of lament. Here’s an example:
Psalm 13: How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?… How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (v.1,2 NIV)
2. Find ways to release your sadness. Don’t bury sorrowful feelings anymore. Look for healthy outlets that come naturally and schedule time for them: art, music (play an instrument, sing, or write a song), write or keep a journal, exercise, talk to someone (a trusted friend, a counselor, or clergy), garden, exercise, etc. Yell, wail, or pound on something soft like a bed or pillow. It’s okay. Emotions are a gift from God. The Bible even affirms there is a time for us to weep:
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 NIV).
But beware: our mourning can make those around us uneasy. Choose a few, select individuals to be real with. If we share too broadly, we may unintentionally push people away. Not everyone can handle our pain. And that’s okay too.
3. Renew your mind. What we spend time thinking about affects us positively or negatively. What we put in our thoughts influences our mood and what we believe. Stay close to God, dear friend. Spend time in His Word. Not sure where to read? Psalms and the Gospel of John are good places to start. Read other encouraging materials too. Go to church, get involved in a small group or Bible study. Listen to podcasts. Spend time in prayer talking to God. Use Bible verses as your prayers when you don’t know how to pray, but try not to do all the talking. Practice sitting in silence, letting God speak to your heart.
Listen to uplifting music. Go outside and let nature be a reminder of how near the Creator of the univese is. It’s also good to protect your mind at night when thoughts and emotions are most difficult to control. Meditating on Psalm 23 or listening to soothing music while falling asleep can help.
Make a list of promises from the Scriptures that can be depended on, truths to lean on. Put them on index cards. Place them where they can be seen often: bathroom mirror, kitchen sink, car dashboard, etc. Reading them often will make a difference in your mood and fill you with a spirit of hopefulness. That’s a big part of who God is — the God of hope.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NIV)
4. Remember who God is. He’s sovereign, loving, and kind. He’s righteous, just, and eternal; powerful, compassionate, and good—even when life is hard. He is a personal God who He cares about each of us. He is this and much more. When we look to Him, He can take the worst parts of our lives and bring something beautiful out of them.
I like what pastor and author Mark Vroegop said in a radio interview:
“When things are really hard, live your life in twenty-four hour periods of grace. God’s grace is new every day. Day by day, His grace will be sufficient for whatever that day holds. God will be faithful. He will cling to us and help us keep clinging to Him.”
Turn to the Bible for comfort:
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (Psalms 34:18 NLT)
Make time to weep, dear friend. Your burdens will feel lighter and your soul will thank you.
Resources for you: Three pianists who play soothing music are David Tolk, David Cardall, and Jim Brickman. I listen to them on Pandora radio.
You might also like Mark Vroegop’s book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.
**WHAT ABOUT YOU? HOW HAVE YOU COPED WITH THE GRIEF AND LOSS YOU’VE EXPERIENCED WITH YOUR TROUBLED CHILD?
I welcome your thoughts. We learn from one another.
**(Today’s blog post is from the archives.)