On Sunday May 23, 2021, I was at a bereaved parent’s retreat in Franklin, Tennessee and seated in a circle with with 14 other married couples who have experienced the death of a child. In my hands I held a handout titled “Worship & The Word” that included lyrics to the songs we would sing and bible verses we would read and discuss. My prayer throughout the weekend had been for me to be able to move past the “It’s not supposed to be this way” mindset that I was stuck in. In recent weeks, I had begun to acknowledge and lean into my new identity. My mind and my heart were not connected in this and I was fighting against it. I “knew” I needed to find rest and accept the truth that living without Caleb was my new reality, but was grasping for the life I thought I was going to have with him. If I were to ever be at peace and live a joy filled life again, I knew needed to accept my life for what it is and I needed to stop focusing on what I imagined it would always be.
God began to speak to me during Worship & The Word that morning and I was sobbing so hard I could barely breathe. Jesus began to open my heart so that I could see what I needed to see and hear what I needed to hear. Through the speaker He spoke into my sorrow when she read aloud Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Rest. That word sounded so peaceful and inviting. I need to rest. I need to rest in truth. I need to rest in reality. I need to rest in life for what it is. I knew right then that this was my takeaway from the retreat. This is why there was a last minute cancellation for the weekend. This is why our wait time for the retreat went from one year to one week. God knew I needed this message with this group of people and He led me straight to it.
My definition of rest as it applies to my grief is to be at rest for what my life is, and not focused on what I expected it to be. It didn’t happen right then and there, overnight or even within the next few days or weeks. I can’t even say that I’m totally there yet but with each new day, my mindset becomes more and more clear.
After that weekend I knew I wanted a tattoo of the word rest, so on August 7, 2021 five days before the 2nd anniversary of Caleb’s death, I walked into a tattoo parlor and walked out with 2 more tattoo’s. I didn’t get the word rest tattooed on my hand because I am at rest with my life for what it is, I got it to remind me that I’m a work in progress to get to that place. I got it to help me face forward in life, strive for peace and not be stuck in the mindset of “it’s not supposed to be this way.” This tattoo encapsulates all 5 people of our family. The letters are written in each of our own handwriting…My husband wrote the R, my oldest daughter the E, my youngest daughter the S and I finished it off with the T. Caleb would want nothing more than for his mom to release herself from the distress of his death into a life of peace and rest as she tries to live well until she see’s him again. The idea of releasing myself from he distress of his death isn’t an idea that’s easy to accept. I am distressed, dismayed and devastated over his death but if I let it destroy me, that would not be honoring to him. It’s not easy, that’s why the tattoo is there to help remind me.
The second tattoo I got that day are simply the letters: T, N, R, P, L, A, E, P. The Bible verse behind the letter is Philippians 4:8:
When thoughts of the day Caleb died, guilt and fear of the future pop in my mind, I need the reminder to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy to keep me from spiraling into a dark place, but there are times when I need to sit in the darkness and process my grief. Those times and days are hard, but they’re necessary in order to heal and allow my grief to evolve and transform into a grief that doesn’t debilitate me. My thoughts naturally wander to my heartache and pain…looking for the light and thinking positively takes a conscious effort. When I’m working, driving, cooking, cleaning, etc. and painful thoughts and reminders pop in my head out of nowhere, I can glance right down to my arms and process those thoughts in a healthy and positive way. My deep grief is evidence of the great love I have for my son and I will never let it go but for my life’s sake, learning how to manage it has been incredibly healing and helpful.
If you would like to read my post, “My Heart On The Outside,” about my first 3 tattoos, click here:
If you would like information on the bereaved parents retreat I mentioned, click here: