I spent long hours with Mama in the last years of her life.
That gave me plenty of time to mine her memory for details of stories I’d heard for years but never took time to really listen to closely.
I knew (although I had no idea how soon it might happen!) that I wouldn’t have her forever. I wanted to gather all the bits and pieces I could hold that would remind me who she was, who she loved and what made her unique so I could always, always remember.
When she left us last September I felt like I had a treasure chest of tales and precious mementos.
It wasn’t that way with Dominic.
I never imagined I’d need such a thing.
I never thought I would be the one left behind with questions about what motivated him to this or that, go here or there, what brought him particular delight or made him stay awake at night.
Time was on my side.
He was young and vibrant.
No need to dig for bits to tuck away in case he wasn’t here to ask.
When I used to drive by an unkempt yard, a run down house or bumped into an untidy person, I would think, “Goodness! Don’t they care about their yard, home or appearance? They need to do better! I would NEVER let my (fill in the blank) look like that.”
I don’t do that anymore.
Because I’ve learned that there are all kinds of reasons a body may not be busy mowing a lawn, painting a porch or even putting on matching socks.
Like many families in the United States ours has entirely too much stuff.
Homeschooling four children over twenty years and living in the same house for longer than that added to the pile of memories and tokens tucked in boxes and corners.
This week I decided (along with my youngest son) to tackle a couple of storage buildings we have. It was definitely time to clean out, throw out and pare down the piles.
So together we opened the doors and dug in.
Boxes that hadn’t been opened for years spilled out souvenirs from childhood, teen years and early adulthood. It was tempting to get lost in remembering but the heat of summer spurred us on.
More than once tears threatened and I had to take a deep breath to keep going.
Cleaning out is especially hard on my heart.
Just a couple months before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I had gone through a ton of homeschooling papers, memorabilia and odds and ends, gleefully culling them down to a few representative bits I thought I’d box or scrapbook into a keepsake for each child.
I filled my truck bed with boxes and boxes and took it to the dump. I enjoyed tossing them on the pile and relished the now organized space left at home.
What felt like freedom then, feels like regret and longing now.
Because what I have left of the physical presence of my son is represented in the scraps I have kept-the clothes, the notes, the scribbled comments in the margins of his notebooks and college texts.
So I’m careful about what gets tossed and what I keep.
And regardless how many bins and boxes I sort through on a given day, I’m exhausted by the end of it.
It’s ALL heavy lifting for my heart even when it’s light in my arms.
So I collect quotes, copying them down in my journal and sometimes hanging them where I can see them throughout the day.
Here are a few that speak to my heart. I hope they speak to yours. ❤
I wish there WERE a secret to surviving this journey. But there isn’t. There is just one moment, one breath, one step at a time. I do the best I can each day.
Over time I’ve grown stronger and better able to carry the load. Over time I’ve learned how to shift my focus from my son’s death to his life.
Death ends so many things.
But it does not end the influence of my son’s life on my heart and it can’t steal the moments I shared with him.
As long as I hum the tune of his unique song I can still hear him.
Before I was the one in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I didn’t realize it’s a lifelong journey. I acknowledged that loss changed a person but I didn’t know that it keeps changing you. Grief influences how I experience the present not just how I view the past.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven it instantly changed the landscape of my life. The future I thought I’d have was shattered and I was thrust into unfamiliar and often frightening territory with no road map. It has taken a long time to learn how to walk in this uncertain world and I still stumble.
There are no set standards for how or how long a heart grieves. Everyone brings his or her own personality and experience to the process.
It’s tempting to look for a structured guide to measure my progress.
Others can share how they are walking this road but ultimately I have to forge my own trail through the wilderness.
This is one of my very favorite quotes. Great love, great grief. How could it be any different?
When a child is born into a family, no one finds it strange that the addition changes everything. When that child leaves too soon they shouldn’t find it strange that it changes everything once again.
I didn’t just lose my son, I lost the family I used to have.
The place he should be but isn’t looms large every time we sit at the table, gather for celebrations or just line up for a group photo.
Part of the work grief requires is learning to hold onto the love and influence my son poured into my own life. I have had to redefine my relationship with Dominic-figuring out how I to mother a child I can no longer see or hold.
There’s a lot of pressure on grieving hearts to “get better” based on the medical model of illness, treatment, recovery. But grief is not a disease. It truly is the price you pay for love. I have experienced healing in the six years since Dominic left for Heaven but I won’t be fully healed until I join him in eternity.
Every single child is a unique gift to the world.
When death steals their presence, the light and love they shared with others lives on.
As long as we remember, as long as we speak their names, they continue to be a gift to those who love them . ❤
Social media is full of rants about this and that. Television blares raised voices shouting over one another in what passes for news coverage. T-shirts are emblazoned with one-liners intended to provoke others.
We tolerate and even embrace anger as a legitimate emotion.
Yet we rarely make room for mourning. We hide our tears. We shame those who don’t hide theirs as “weak” and “soft” and “cowardly” or worse.
But many times what we think is anger, is really sadness.
If you think that time makes a difference to a mama’s heart that’s missing a child who ran ahead to Heaven without her, you don’t know as much as you think you know.
Time does not heal all wounds-especially the kind that shatter a heart into a million pieces.
It takes time for the wound to scar over, but it doesn’t undo the damage.
So if you are wondering why your coworker still takes the day off on his child’s birthday or the anniversary of her child’s homegoing, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Years disappear when those milestones loom large.