When You Feel Burnout Doing Good in the Child Loss Community
I was a little girl in an orphanage, and in case you thought those were the things of third world countries, you’re wrong.
I was raised an orphan.
I know the story of the family struggling with fertility, deciding to open their home to an adopted child. But she’s got to be just the right one.
She can be different, but, she’s got to look like she fits in. I understood, but, I didn’t.
I didn’t, look like I fit in, I mean. I wasn’t that girl. Every year, the chances dropped exponentially, every year older, I was less and less likely to look like I could fit into their picture, their family, and more and more, the burdens outweighed the benefits of making me their chosen child. So I was passed along, and my chances passed up, and my childhood passed me by.
At fifteen, I aged out of the care provided by our government and was considered emancipated.
I learned some things with such an upbringing. I came to sense it in the air, the transition, when a family had me just long enough that they realized I was taking up the bed they longed to give their forever daughter.
Despite the best intentions of the messages you’ll hear from your church home this upcoming holiday season, it didn’t matter what gifts I might have received for Christmas. I wrote the list. The one gift I really want, the one item I really need. How does an eight year old girl decide such things? The reality was, it didn’t matter what I’d get. I liked the idea, but it didn’t have a hold on me. If it didn’t fit in the trash bag come February, it wasn’t coming with me anyway.
I learned to be frugal, with my things, with my friendships, with my feelings.
To only hold onto the things that truly matter; to be mindful that the most important things are those that remain “on your person.”
I’ve been the mother of a child not alive for six years.
For six years, I have taken the open, raw soil that covers my child’s physical form in this earth and have shared this vulnerable space openly and plainly with and for all passersby.
I have invited you to sit at my side and I have sat at yours. I’ve wept for your losses, your many losses. I have lamented for all that has been taken from you, I have seen you, truly seen those raw and real open wounds that you’ve entrusted to share with me.
I have seen mothers, desperate to claim something precious for your own child’s sake, frantically willing to forsake all morals, all righteousness and integrity, to forfeit goodness; I have seen you steal intellectual property, I have seen you snatch what does not belong to you and claim it as your own. I know why you do it, I promise I do. I know the secret fear, I know you are painfully afraid that your child’s story will mean less if you cannot point to something tangible, productive, thriving, that manifested from his life and his death.
This journey has me weary. Weary that every goodness I give is being broken down to be replicated and repackaged, is being broken down in humiliation and rejection.
What starts as a ministry, a blog, a gofundme, a small service, over time, the bereaved mother with a servant’s heart becomes instead, an owner, a manufacturer, a producer, a president or CEO. Requests become orders and feedback becomes reviews. The kindnesses that are offered don’t stand a chance to reach the war torn heart through the shouting of rejections and imperfections.
Those who are creative and bereaved quietly close up shop at this transition.
We are losing our creatives, we are losing our inspirations, we are losing our role models and mentors.
Ask me about the first bike I ever rode, or the first dress I ever wore, or about a first day of a school year. Ask me for a photo. I have living children, and they’ve asked me for photos of their mama when she was a little girl. I have none. They have none. It’s a painful reality, but I have none. The feeling is an overwhelmingly emptying, depleting, feeling.
When you steal from me, my heart is familiar with the break.
You’re ripping at the girl who carries nothing. But it’s not just about me anymore. Your counterfeiting, it takes away from the legacy of my deceased son, a legacy I pour so intentionally into that it would be a steadfast place of pure love. When you steal from me, you not only risk but actually intentionally divert a bereaved mother from the community of support she would receive and instead dupe her to your space – that doesn’t have her best interests as the objective, does it?
When I see you hurting, I am not going to come to you guarded, clasping the treasures of support and shielding myself from the harm you may inflict upon me. My son’s place of final rest doesn’t have a headstone. His plot is open and exposed to all of the harsh Midwest elements of torrential rain, freezing ice, mounds of snow and the occasional whirlwind of a tornado. I can reach down and sift the soil through my fingers. It is a reflection of how I want my heart to be: open, available, touchable.
You impact me and your story matters. I come to you knowing full well the damage your grief can cause me. The scars of this journey run quite as deeply as the scars of my girlhood. Some day, I will sit, I will reprieve, I will close up shop, whatever that looks like. But it will be in my time, in my own way, and I won’t go quietly.
I will serve you, will the fullness of love, loyal longsuffering, steadfast faith and enduring compassion for you. Not just because of me, not just because of my son. But because of you.
Through, in, and despite my own burnout, my heart is on fire for you to find your authentic victory. You can, you will. You are.
Maybe only some people can really make new things, but all, can make things new, even though that’s the hardest of all.
I will tell you what wasn’t told to me. It is not too late for you. Your story isn’t done yet. You can make good choices. You have a lot to bring. You are worth enduring for.
Not for how you fit into my picture, but for who you simply are.
When I come to you, when you find me, I will allow my vulnerability to be used against me. Because your grief is intrinsically worth it.
Because you inherently matter.
Always. No matter what.