At first everyone talked about him.
It’s what people do just after a person leaves this world and leaves behind only memories.
It comes natural before the unnatural fact of child loss settles in and begins to make everyone uncomfortable.
But at some point after the funeral and way before the tears dried up, people stopped feeling easy mentioning his name.
And when I mentioned him, they weren’t sure whether they should just let those words fall with a “thud!” between us or pick up the conversational ball and run with it.
It’s a bit easier to understand when friends do it.
But so, so many bereaved parents lament the fact that even family members stop saying their missing child’s name aloud.
They stop sharing memories and stop acknowledging the place he or she holds in a parent’s heart regardless of their permanent address.
It hurts. A LOT.
I realized after the first six months or so that most people (including my family) didn’t know HOW to talk about my missing son.
So I began modeling it for them: I spoke of memories in past tense as I would for anyone, I spoke of character traits in present tense– because he is still all that plus some in Heaven-and I refused to ignore the elephant in the room.
I told them it was impossible to make me sadder by mentioning Dominic but it was very possible to make my burden heavier by NOT mentioning him. They were not reminding me that he was gone, I breathe his absence in and out like oxygen all day long.
I know it seems unfair that we must simultaneously learn by (awful and heartbreaking!) experience and also educate those around us, but it is what it is.
If I’m honest, though, before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I didn’t really know how to talk about a young person who died. It’s natural to reminisce about Grandmama’s favorite recipe or the old-fashioned way she did her hair. It’s positively Unnatural to speak in past tense about a young, vibrant human being that you never expected to outlive.
There are always going to be some folks-even family-who cannot or will not speak about my child in Heaven.
I can’t force them to do it.
But I can encourage the ones who do by telling them what a beautiful gift it is to hear his name on their lips.