Sowing in Tears, Reaping in Joy

I was asked by a sweet sister-in-Christ to share wisdom with mamas still in the trenches of raising their families from the perspective of a mama who is not only past that stage but has laid one of her babies to rest.

I thought about how the two perspectives might merge into a single message.

And I realized that when I made the choice decades ago to live with eternal perspective God was preparing my heart to lose Dominic.  When I committed to loving and living each day, I was laying a foundation that could not be shaken, even when my whole world crumbled around me.

I am so thankful for the years I had with my children at home.

Yes, it was hard.

Yes, I was tired.

But oh! the sweet, sweet memories I can cherish in my grieving heart!

Time-that coveted commodity of motherhood.

Always more dishes, diapers and duties than hours in the day.

Weary limbs labor to meet the needs of our families, always looking forward to the next obligation and managing on not enough sleep, not enough rest, not enough encouragement.

weary

It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that while we live in a world bound by time and space, we are created for eternity where neither will hem us in.

As a young mother with four children ages six and under, I remember trudging through many days in a sort of foggy haze, vaguely aiming for the goal of making sure everyone was fed, washed and safe but uncertain of what else might be important.

The tyranny of the urgent can push what’s important past the fringes of our attention.

Our vision can be so consumed with the day-to-day until there’s no space for long-term goals or ambitions.

But God has ordained that our children, eternal beings, be set in families.

He has commissioned us as mothers to help mold and shape these little lives into the people He wants them to be, to take their place in His plan for an eternal kingdom.

One of the truths that gave me strength while I was in the middle of those hectic years was reminding my heart that this was not going to last forever but that how I chose to deal with these temporary opportunities and frustrations would impact eternity.  

When overwhelmed and undone, I reached for the robe of the One Who made me and Who made the children He gave me.

woman touching his hem

When faced with another day of  unending obligations and limited resources, I leaned into my God Who supplies more than I can ask or think from His abundant heavenly treasure.

my god shal supply all your needs

 

 

 

 

I had to learn to live IN the moment but not FOR the moment.

 

Burying my son has made me nostalgic for the days when my children were young and still at home.  I have combed back through memories, dug up old photographs and thought long about what I would do differently if I had known then what I know now.

I am so thankful that before my heart was broken, it had already been filled with the promise that today is not all there is; that right now is not the only truth; and that our lives are a blip on God’s eternal timeline that has no beginning and no end.

Our children are gifts, not possessions.

One day they will grow up and build their own lives and families.  There will be long days without interruption, fewer dishes and clothes to wash, clean floors and extra closets.

But the love, grace, mercy and energy poured into them as children will count for forever.  

solitary life

 

No seed is wasted.  No toil is fruitless. No work is unrewarded.

Labor on, sweet mama.  You are planting for eternal harvest.

 

 

Memorial Day

Dominic was born on Memorial Day, May 28, 1990.  I had spent the weekend working in the yard without a thought that my son would soon be appearing.  He wasn’t due for ten more days and so far, none of my children had been born “early”.

I wasn’t ready!

But he was determined to make his entrance on his own terms.  And that’s pretty much how he did everything.

And then he left us-“early”.

I wasn’t ready for that either.

We celebrate Memorial Day with cookouts and fun family gatherings.  But that isn’t what this day is for.  This day has been set aside to remember those who died serving our country.

In war after war, families across America have been devastated by the deaths of their sons and daughters, many  taken in the prime of life, at the dawn of adulthood.

Almost every family and community has a story of  burying a promising young soul that was sure to make a difference but who never got that chance.

My father served and my son is now serving.

And to all the mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters gave the last full measure for their home and country, I say:

“Thank you for your sacrifice.  Thank you for the love poured into the child that became the brave man or brave woman who would put his or her life on the line for what they believed in. Your toil bore much fruit that continues to bless others today.”  

You have given up what no one has the right to ask of you.

You live with both the honor of your child’s legacy and the horror of your child’s absence.  

memorial day soldiers

And if your child survived the battlefield but could not survive the scars of war, I am so very sorry.

I understand the pain of missing the child you love,  I hear your heart and I am praying for you.

As we gather with our families and enjoy freedom purchased with the blood of sons and daughters, may we REMEMBER.

memorial day how much did all this cost

May we honor the ones who gave everything they had to secure our liberty.

And may we remember the families left behind who can never forget.  

 

The strongest love anyone can have is this. He will die to save his friends.

John 15:13 WE

The Absence of His Presence is Everywhere

Something I’ve been learning in this grief journey is that loss is an ongoing event.

It’s not confined to the moment of death, the funeral, the burial or even the boxing up of belongings.  

I suffer loss every time there is a moment when Dominic would have been present, should have been present and isn’t here.

It happens when I need to ask him a question, get his opinion, long for his help or just want to hear his voice.   

It happens when I look at myself in the mirror and realize that the living mirror that was Dominic is gone.

There is so much more to his absence than just the hole in my heart.

I shared some of these feelings a few months ago:

A family isn’t just the sum of its parts.  It isn’t a simple equation that can be worked out on a chalkboard or around a dinner table-this person plus that person equals two persons.

A family is an organic mixture of personalities, relationships, strengths and weaknesses that exponentially influence one another. I always joked that our family was a ready-made committee.  Wherever we went we brought a fully staffed, action-ready army of six that spread out and triumphed over whatever challenge we faced.

You can read the rest here:  Minus More Than One

Do They Have Birthdays in Heaven?

Today would have been Dominic’s twenty-sixth birthday.

He should have been a little over a year out of law school and one year into a career.

Instead, he’s not here.  And he will never be HERE again.

I’m getting pretty good at shifting my focus from the giant hole that is where Dominic is supposed to be to the fullness of the life that still surrounds me.  Not today.

Today the absence of his presence is especially keen.

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I miss him.

I miss his smile.

 

I miss his harsh logic that would slice through a conversation like a knife. I miss his noisy descent down the stairs-always snapping his fingers to a rhythm in his head.

I miss his sense of humor.

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I miss his fearlessness.

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I miss his hugs.

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I miss how even though he claimed to “hate” kids, he melted every time one crawled into his lap.

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I miss how he used to launch himself, back first, on my bed to announce he was there to talk for a bit.

I miss how he found special tools to help me in the kitchen when my arthritis kept me from being able to do something I loved.

I miss how he could combine tough talk and smooth BS into cajoling a complaint department to not only fix the problem but throw in a gift card as well “to keep his business”.

I miss being able to call him with my stupid tech questions and have him walk me slowly through the solution (even though I know it frustrated him).

I miss his texts, his calls, his FB messages. I miss his tweets.

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I know I’ll see him again someday and that we will never have to say good-bye again.

But until then,  I really, really miss him.  

and so it was that she having waited long

 

A Good Day

 

jm captain

 

Last Friday, my oldest son received his USAF captain’s bars.  True to form, his path to this new achievement was unique and memorable. I’m so very proud of him and of his commitment to excellence.

And that meant that he was leaving San Antonio and headed to Maxwell AFB for Commissioned Officer Training. So he was able to swing by home on Sunday!

 

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Sunday afternoon, my kids presented me with this beautiful “Family of Love” necklace for Mother’s Day.  It has all their names and birthstones so I can wear them close to my heart.  I love it!

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James Michael brought me flowers-lots of purple, my favorite color.

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And then we were joined by Joe and Seve, two of Dominic’s good friends from Law School. Joe surprised me with this amazing handmade plate from his recent travels to Turkey. I appreciate the love and support of these fellows and their ongoing commitment to remember Dominic and honor our family.

 

We had Robbie and Jonica over for supper with their new daughter.  I got to cuddle this sweet baby and be reminded that love still lives and life goes on.

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And no DeSimone adventure would be complete without an “emergency”.  While getting food ready and on the table, we discovered a minor plumbing problem that flooded the downstairs bathroom, the laundry area and into the garage (all downhill-literally and figuratively).

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So while we girls ate supper, the men worked at repairs.

Just like old times-one boy went in one direction, another went the other way and Julian manned the homefront.  Thankfully, they were able to get things back in working order sooner rather than later.  But not before I exhausted our supply of 24 full-sized “clean-up” towels that were washed in bleach the next day!

 

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The evening ended with lots of laughter and plenty of carbs.

And a rare opportunity for a group photo that had me surrounded by all my children within reach. (Thank you, Alison, for snapping the picture!)

We miss you, Dominic.

And we can never stand close enough to squeeze out the giant hole you’ve left.

But we are living like you lived-making the most of the moments-and loving each other.

boys

 

You Just Never Know

Just last week another mother in my community joined the ranks of those who bury a child. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and without warning, her son was gone.

It happens every day.  

We toss a casual “see you later” to the person heading out the door without thinking it might be the last thing we say to them.

matters how you liv

 

I am determined not to live in fear of loss-even though I have experienced it first hand.

But I am also determined to live so that should I lose someone else, they will be assured of this:

 I love them and I value them.

 

 

I don’t take things for granted anymore-What if Tomorrow Never Came?

It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

I hear you, mama.  That baby toddling away from the security of your arms-you miss those close snuggles and slobbery kisses.  But he’s not really LEAVING, he’s just growing.

cartoon baby

I know, I know.

First day of school blues.

Where did the time go?  How can you drop that little girl off at the front door and trust that her teacher will take care of her as well as mom?  She’s getting older, but she isn’t outside your influence.

cartoon male graduate

Oh my goodness!! Already graduating high school?  Moving out and going to college!  No more daily chats face-to-face across the kitchen table.  No more late night confession sessions.

He’s a young man, pulling away, making big decisions without you, but he’ll be home for Christmas and summer vacation.

 

 

For all you mamas lamenting the passage of time and the upheavals it brings I have a word: It’s NOT over.

Your child is still within reach.  You can call or text or visit.  You can touch his face, hug her neck, hear his voice.

Life is changing but it is still LIFE.

Feeling a little nostalgic for what WAS is perfectly normal.  Most of us humans aren’t that fond of change.

But children are ours for a season, not forever.  

They are given to us as gifts, not possessions.

For some mamas, like me, it really IS over.

The son I brought home from the hospital, the boy I watched grow and mature into a young man, the confident college graduate I saw drive away to start law school-he is gone.

I can’t call or text or visit him.

I can’t forge a different kind of  relationship across the miles or make special arrangements for him to travel home for the holidays.

I can’t make new memories or take new photographs.  I can’t hug his neck or hear his voice.

So it’s OK to feel a little sad that things are changing.  It’s like moving furniture around in the room-you stub your toe in the dark because things aren’t where they used to be.  

But for me, it’s like the house has burned down.

I felt a pinch in my heart every now and then as my children grew and more and more of their lives were spent away from me.  But I also celebrated each milestone, made much (and still do) of each achievement.

I didn’t want them to be frozen in time, stuck on a shelf, kept “small”.

Enjoy the time you have with your babies, with your children, with your teens-embrace the growing independent persons they are becoming.  

As long as they are walking the earth with you, nothing is OVER,  it’s just the beginning of something new.   

caterpillar thought it was over

 

 

 

 

Bill of Rights for Grieving Mamas

One of our family’s inside jokes comes from a movie about the Civil War.  A young soldier questioned about why he’s fighting declares, “I’m fightin’ for my rights!”-except is sounds like he’s saying, “I’m fightin’ for my rats!”

So we often laugh back and forth when faced with combative situations by using that line.

You wouldn’t think that grieving would be one of them.  But it can be.

I’m kind of a touchy-feely person. One who will hug strangers, pat puppies and offer a hand whenever I see someone struggling.

So it has been a bit of a surprise to find out that some people really want me to keep my grief in the closet.  

They would rather I  hide my tears.  They have decided on an appropriate number of days, weeks, months for my grief to run its course and then it should be “over”.

Now, let me just say that I do not think I have the right to ruin someone else’s day.  

I make appropriate arrangements when asked to participate in special events.  If I can go and be certain I won’t draw attention away from the celebration, I do.  If I can’t, then I’m honest about it and find another way to contribute.

But I can’t spend my life in a bubble.

I’m inevitably going to be around others when a wave of grief hits me. Sometimes I will not be able to control my reaction.

And that’s OK…

So here’s what I believe to be my rights as a grieving mom (other grieving parents may disagree-and that’s o.k.):

mr rogers and feelings

I have a right to my feelings. I am open to someone who has demonstrated sincere compassion to help me work through them  or to share their concerns if they see me heading toward destructive expression of them.  But it is not up to someone else to validate my feelings about burying my son.

I have a right to draw boundaries.  So much of my energy is being sapped by working through grief that I just do not have the resources to deal with everyday drama.  I care deeply about the other people in my life and I will absolutely be there for them when they really need me.  But I can’t be a sounding board for every little thing.

I have a right to talk about my son.  He is still my child.  He is still part of my life and my family’s life.  Most mamas talk about their children all the time.  I talk about my living children and I will continue to talk about the child I miss.

I have a right to cry.  Tears make most folks a little uncomfortable.  I acknowledge that and believe me, I try to hold them back.  But when they fall-I won’t hide them as if it’s shameful.  I won’t draw attention to myself, but I won’t always slink away either.

memories tears

I have a right to laugh.  Humor still moves me. And a belly laugh is good medicine.  But don’t mistake a moment of laughter as a signal that I’m “better”.  I am healing, slowly, but I am not whole.

I have a right to NOT talk about how I feel.  Life still happens and every emotion I experience is not necessarily tied to missing my son.   I don’t always need to “talk about it”. Sometimes, like everyone, I just need time to process and get over something.

I have a right to celebrate or not celebrate, participate or not participate in holidays, birthdays, remembrance days or any other special day or occasion however I am able-even if it means changing long-standing traditions or routines.  I do my very best to live up to the expectations and needs of the people that are close to me.  I want to have birthday parties, exchange gifts, celebrate graduations and weddings and other major milestones.  But sometimes I might have to attack these gatherings in a slightly different way.  I’m not the same person I was before Dominic left us and I can’t always do things the way I used to.

I have a right to be heard.  I don’t expect nor do I want to be the center of every decision or every event.  But I have a right to express my opinion, I’m not invisible.  And no one knows what is best for me except ME.  It’s easiest if people just ask me what will be most helpful instead of assuming that I would or wouldn’t like this or that.

Navigating the death of a child is a treacherous journey.  I understand that those who have not travelled this path may not think about how hard it is and some of the little things that can make it easier or harder.

I am so thankful for the ones who try.

friends pick us up

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Holding on to Whom?

I have three surviving children.

And every time I don’t hear from one of them when I expect to or I can’t reach them on their cell phone I have to take a deep breath and speak truth to my heart.

God began to do a good work in you. And I am sure that he will keep on doing it until he has finished it. He will keep on until the day Jesus Christ comes again. Philippians 1:6 WE

 

I have to talk myself out of plunging headlong off the precipice of dark “What ifs” that is always at the edge of my concious thought.

 I have to remember that even when I am right there with them, I am not in control.

I am not the one who orders their days and determines their steps.

You see all things; You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb; Every detail of my life was already written in Your book; You established the length of my life before I ever tasted the sweetness of it. Psalm 139:16 VOICE

all my days written

Losing Dominic suddenly, unexpectedly and violently has shaken my faith. All the verses I recited and underlined and “claimed” now bear witness against my doubting heart.

So I remind myself that God had a plan, He has a plan and that He worked His plan through Dominic and is now working it through me.

“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; [and] he was buried with his ancestors” Acts 13:36 NIV

Here I am, a bit more than two years later, and I can say this:

If my grip on Jesus was the determining factor in staying connected, I would have fallen into the pit long ago.  If MY hold on hope decided whether or not the rope slipped through my hands, I would be lost.

But while I can muster the strength (sometimes) to grab desperately at a thread of His garment, I am not the one who holds Him.  He is the One who holds ME.

no one can snatch them

Jesus said:

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never lose it or perish throughout the ages. [To all eternity they shall never by any means be destroyed.] And no one is able to snatch them out of My hand.”

John 10:28 AMPC

I still have work to do, and I don’t want to be immobilized by fear of what might happen.  I don’t want to waste the days that I am given by worrying about the ones that might be taken away.

gods workmanship good works

For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live]. Ephesians 2:10 AMPC

So I recite truth to my heart.  

I sing courage to my spirit.

I remind myself that while  I am not in control, but I am loved by the One Who is.

loved by the one in control

 

I’m Listening

I was reminded recently by another bereaved mother that my child loss experience is not universal.

I appreciate her honesty and bravery.

And I would just like to take a moment to say:

“I hear you.  I see you.  I acknowledge that you have a unique perspective that I do not share by experience.”

It’s hard to put myself in someone else’s shoes when I’ve never had to wear them myself.

We are all limited in many ways by the trials, temptations, joys and triumphs we have known in our lives.

But I don’t want to sit satisfied in the silo of my own experience.  

I want to enlarge my understanding of what others are going through, how they are coping, how they are hurting.

So I begin by sharing MY story because it’s the only one I know from the inside.

But it is not the only one I want to know.

Tell me your story.

I promise to listen.

We buy tickets to movies, purchase books and cruise the Internet gobbling up other people’s stories.  Yet we often make it difficult for those we know to tell us theirs.

We jockey for attention at gatherings, or worse, give all our attention to electronic devices. We think we KNOW other people’s stories so we don’t want to bore ourselves with listening again.

The truth is, we know less than we think about the folks we rub shoulders with every day.

 

Read more here:  Tell Me Your Story