Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

I want to be everything my living children need me to be.  

I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.  

I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.  

But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.  

Sometimes the happy moment so closely resembles a shared memory that includes Dominic, my heart takes my head in directions I wish it wouldn’t go.  Sometimes it’s a long awaited once-in-a-lifetime occasion and Dom’s absence is a giant, gaping hole everywhere I look.

It’s really hard to be stuck at the crossroad of being happy for a child still here while mourning and missing the child that’s gone.

brandon and fiona wedding her laughing not screenshotI’ve had to do that many, many times in the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve found a couple of things that help.  

I put something in my pocket or wear a piece of jewelry that is a token of my love for Dominic. 

IMG_1815

It helps me feel as if he’s represented even if no one else knows about it.  Then I lean in and take hold of the celebration as best as I can. When I feel overwhelmed, I touch my little token and/or escape to a quiet corner or bathroom for a minute or two and collect myself.

I also try to do something called “pre-grieving”. 

coffee and journal morning

I allow myself time early in the morning of an event to be alone and cry if I need to.  If the tears won’t come, I listen to music that helps my heart reach that place of release.  I journal my feelings.  I walk through the day and admit where it might be especially challenging.  I think through how I can deal with that and make a plan.

It makes a difference.  

So much has been stolen from my surviving children. 

I don’t want them robbed of their mama too.  

beach-and-family-better

 

Child Loss: Missing The Family I Thought I’d Have

I miss a lot of things since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

I miss HIM-his deep voice, his perspective and his thump-thump-thumping down the stairs and the rhythm of who he is.

And I miss how his absence has reshaped the family I thought I’d have.  

Raising four children, investing my time, heart and energy into who they were turning out to be, I naturally projected into the years ahead.  All that love poured into them would create a legacy we’d all enjoy.  Marriages, careers, grandchildren and experience would blend together into a (if not perfectly harmonious) at least a shared future.

desimones uab family

I never imagined turning a calendar page without one of my children to turn it with me.  

Dominic’s death has touched each one of us.  His missing is as powerful a force as his presence.  We are absolutely NOT THE SAME as we would have been if he were still here nor as we were when he was still here.

When Dom first left us, I was primarily mourning him.  I still miss him like crazy.  

But a lot of my mourning during the past twelve months has been for the family I thought I would have.  I see each of my surviving children are processing Dominic’s absence in ways that influence their decisions.

In some ways it’s beautiful-I see twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings making choices with wisdom way beyond their years.  In some ways it’s brutal-they set up safeguards because they know by experience that leaving the house doesn’t always mean you return.  They have back up plans for everything.

Which wasn’t something I even thought about when I was their age.  

My husband and I expected to drift into retirement years full of energy and vigor.  Much of that has been stolen from us by child loss too.  Oh, how we long to be the fun grandparents, the traveling duo, the footloose crazy pair but it’s much more effort than we anticipated.

Sometimes we can’t muster that energy at all.  

I know some changes were inevitable.  Dominic’s death coincided with a natural progression toward an empty nest.  I’m not a helicopter mama and I’ve always said my goal was to raise children who could function well without me so I think that as much as possible, I prepared my heart for them to grow up and grow apart.

But in addition to normal changes, there’s an utterly unnatural and unwelcome transformation from nuclear family to brokenhearted family.

I am so, so thankful that we have chosen the hard path of running toward one another instead of running away.  

I’m grateful that we have grown from five left behind to a table for eight-two new spouses and a precious grandchild. 

I do not take a single second for granted because I know that seconds are not guaranteed.  

But I sure wish Dominic were here to share it with us.  

dominic at olive garden

 

 

 

Grief is a Family Affair

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

There is definitely a time and place for professional counseling.  Many, many families benefit from having a trained individual, outside the immediate grief circle, guide them in exploring feelings, developing coping strategies and learning to live life this side of loss.

But there is also something to be said for arranging casual open-ended activities with surviving siblings, parents and even grandparents where space and a more relaxed atmosphere often leads to honest sharing.

This graphic has lots of excellent suggestions for how to craft such a space.

Not all will be suitable for every family, but every family should be able to find a few that fit.

I’ll add these guidelines that may help your family make the best choice for YOU:

  • Don’t force it.  If you make an offer of an activity and it drops with a thud to the ground, let it go.  You might be able to do it another time.
  • Don’t make it (what my kids like to say!) a “mandatory option”.  There must be no guilt or coercion invading this space.  If one or more of your family members consistently refuse to join in, consider asking a close family friend to take that individual out alone and see what might be going on.
  • If you choose a movie or other story-themed activity, LOOK UP THE PLOT!  I can’t tell you how many times we were sideswiped by a death scene or some other heavy emotional plot twist.  There may be a time when your family is prepared to experience those things together (we can now) but it may not be yet.
  • Mix and match more structured activities with open-ended ones like walks outside, watching the sunset, sitting on the beach, hanging at the pool, playing a game (not too competitive-that will sometimes bring out hidden anger).
  • If you have a family with a broad range of ages you might have to do some things with the littles and some with the older kids.  You can always add one or two activities a month or quarter where everyone (or as many as are available) gets together.
  • If your children, spouse, parent or other close griever begins to talk-let them.  If tears flow-that’s progress!  If ugly feelings are expressed, listen.  Try not to be defensive.  Try to hear the hurt behind the words.  It’s OK to set ground rules like using “I” statements and not blaming.  But don’t shut them out or shut them down.  

These are just ideas.  

Google is your friend and your phone is probably already in your hand or pocket-use it.

Find things that fit YOUR family. 

The only way through is through.  

You have to feel and deal to heal. 

selfcare for families

Wedding Day!

Today is the day!

All the preparation and anticipation meet under a covered outdoor chapel as my daughter and her fiance exchange vows and become one.

By the end of the evening, we will have laughed (and cried!), danced and toasted our way through this very important event.

And they will leave changed in ways they can’t imagine nor fully understand.  It takes time to grow into lifelong commitment.

It takes years for singleness to be sanded down to a perfect fit one for the other.

Weddings are fun.  

Marriage is work.  

My parents have been married for 58 years.  My husband and I for nearly 35.  None of us has a magic formula for marital longevity.  Mostly it’s been leaning into the commitment we made at the altar so many years ago even when it seemed easier to give up and give in.

We’ve all faced so many challenges in our decades together.  Some we saw coming and some landed suddenly on top of us without warning.  Life, death, moving house, illness, accident, floods, hurricanes, and dozens of smaller crises have forced us to change course, adjust our sails and adapt to new and often unwelcome directions.   But we haven’t abandoned ship.

Sometimes it’s been pure grit and determination that see us through.  Other times it’s holding on to the good things we’ve shared together.  

I’m thankful we are celebrating today.  

I’ll be tucking this memory in a safe place where I can pull it out on days that aren’t so beautiful.  

It’s my prayer that Fiona and Brandon do the same.  

fiona and brandon at farm

When life gets hard (and it will!) may they remember the promises they made to one another and weather the storms together.

Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 VOICE

 

 

International Bereaved Mother’s Day 2019: An Open Letter to my Fellow Sisters in Loss

Dear Mama,

I know that you never-in your wildest imagination-thought that you would need a day set aside for your broken heart and your empty arms.  

Who thinks when they learn a new life is growing inside that this same life might be cut short?  What heart is brave enough to consider the possibility? 

Yet here you are.  

I’m so, so sorry.  

Read the rest here:  International Bereaved Mother’s Day: An Open Letter to my Fellow Sisters in Loss

Life is a Gift-Celebrate! Every. Single. Day.

I have never been a crystal and china kind of gal.

I got a few special pieces when my husband and I married, but most of the things in my home are durable and useful.

So I don’t have many things tucked away for special occasions.

I’m glad that when my kids were young we made even ordinary days special by setting the table, using candles, cloth napkins, real plates and mugs for meals.

We foolish mortals sometimes live through years not realizing how short life is, and that TODAY is your life.
― Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

I’m especially thankful this side of child loss that our memories include making many regular days wonderful by choosing to celebrate the smallest moments. 

I have an inexpensive set of Chinese plates, soup bowls and porcelain spoons I bought from a mail order catalog way before the Internet, much less Amazon.  It gave my homemade sweet and sour chicken an air of authenticity (and it was fun!).

When December rolled around, we ditched our everyday plates for Christmas ones we used for meals and festive coffee mugs that held everything from morning coffee to the evening’s soft drinks, tea and hot cocoa.

Birthdays, holidays and regular days were all reasons to make merry and make memories. 

I’m so glad we didn’t set things aside because they were too dear for everyday use.  

Life IS a gift. 

Celebrate it.

dont save for special occassion

Only Natural

Whether surrounded by friends or strangers, I sift through the words threatening to fly out of my mouth very carefully.

Like most of us, there’s a script in my head that doesn’t always bear sharing.

But unlike many, part of my script involves a child that lives in Heaven.

And I’m constantly weighing whether or not I should mention him even though the conversation leads my heart to a memory I very much want to speak aloud.  It often makes others uncomfortable, awkward and upset when I do.  So sometimes I just don’t.

I hate that I edit myself like that.

I hate that another person’s response or lack of response makes me cautious.

If Dominic were still walking among us, I’d be sharing away.  His life, his work, his challenges, his accomplishments would all be fair game as I sat with fellow mothers and grandmothers talking about our families.  No one would bat an eye if I mentioned his name, said I missed him since he moved away for that job, admitted that I counted the days until the next family get-together or holiday and I could host a full table.

But because he moved to Heaven, I’m supposed to be “over him”.  I’m supposed to bow to convention and quietly stop talking about the son that’s missing from all the photos we’ve taken since 2014.  I should shush my heart and silence my lips because it makes other people uncomfortable.

I’m not doing it.

talk about them better image

Our family just welcomed the first grandchild.

Little Ryker will never see Uncle Dominic, hear his amazing drum skills or be the brunt of his snarky jokes.  But Ryker will know about Dom.  I will tell him stories and show him pictures and let him know that the chair at the end of the table is where Uncle Dom used to sit.

ryker smiling

I’ll help Ryker learn something everyone needs to know:  It’s perfectly natural to include and talk about ALL our family-the ones that are here AND the ones in Heaven.

Even when we no longer enjoy their earthly companionship, we love them and they are still very much part of our lives.

So when I’m reciting all the exciting news, be prepared.

I am mom to four, grandmama to one.

Always and forever.

Amen.

desimones uab family