Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of Dominic running ahead to Heaven. I spent a portion of the day thinking about all the people who ministered to our family in those first days and weeks.
What a difference they made!
When our hearts were full of sorrow, they helped us bear the burden. When we couldn’t think straight and make important decisions they came alongside and guided us through. When the dark closed in around us, they held our hands and held a light.
If you want to know what to do when someone you love is thrust into a life they didn’t choose, show up.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be present.
This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved.
A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.
The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.
Not because I don’t have anything to say but because I can’t find ways to say it that might make sense to anyone else.
So much is jumbled up inside me, so much is wrapped around itself and I can’t find the end of the string to unravel it.
Ever since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, writing has been my refuge. First in my journals and now in this space.
I depend on words on the page to tell me what I think and feel.
Lately my trusty tool has let me down.
I’m sure part of it is the abrupt end to silent days and virtually unlimited alone time since the coronavirus crisis upended my routine.
Now when I come in from my walk I’m greeted by my husband (a good thing!) instead of only cats. I spend more time making meals and cleaning up after them. I don’t have the quiet moments watching the sun sink down behind the trees and dark reclaim the living room as I peck away at my keyboard.
Part of it is the time of year.
Sunday will be six years since Dominic left us and each passing day brings me closer and closer to that milestone. I should be better at facing it by now.
But I’m not.
Last year my faithful companion animal died around this time too. His death didn’t hold a candle to the death of my son but any death-every death-pricks that deep wound and reminds me the world is not as it should be.
Last year’s Facebook post:
2:53 4/7/2019 ••UPDATE•• Roosevelt died in my arms without suffering. I am so thankful for the years I had with him. ❤️.
I’m holding my precious companion animal as he dies. I want him to know that he is loved and the last thing he feels to be my hand on his fur.
So today, breathing is enough.
2:53 April 7, 2019
And this year-well-this year death is the headline everywhere.
Actual death, impending death, anticipated death. Numbers, numbers, numbers that represent real people, real lives, real families left behind.
How my heart hurts!
I try to stay away from too much news, too much social media, too much of anything besides family and close friends.
I’m still up before sunrise and spend time reading, praying, researching, thinking, waiting to hear from my heart.
Today I’ll toss all the random bits and pieces I’ve assembled for this weekend’s retreat into my car and drive away.
I’m always a little nervous until I’m far enough down the road that turning back isn’t a realistic option.
Even though this is the third retreat in the same place with some of the same moms (plus some new ones) I always fret over whether or not the message God gave me is the one that will bless their hearts.
But I have to trust in this as in all things and keep moving.
One thing that is always, always, always a blessing-Every. Single. Time.-is the compassionate companionship of women who, like me, know what it is to bury a child.
I try to encourage every heart that might even think about joining us with this: you can be yourself.
No mask*No filter*No worrying about whether or not your tears will upset the person next to you*No wondering if your questions or queries or doubts will be considered a failure of faith*No need to hide the ugly truth that child loss is awful and time does NOT heal all wounds.
There’s nothing magical about this retreat or these moms.
It’s simply a shared experience, a shared commitment to transparency and a shared trust in the Word of God that makes our time together fruitful, strengthening and restorative.
So if you have an opportunity to join or create a small group in your neck of the woods, centered on the truth of who God is, founded on the principle of transparent sharing and committed to creating a safe space where masks are unnecessary-go for it!
It seems to be the nature of humans to listen with an ear to respond rather than an ear to hear.
I’ve done it myself.
Jumped right in with all kinds of suggestions designed to “fix” someone else’s problem.
Or worse, heaped my own experience with something more or less (often less) similar onto an already overburdened heart.
I hate that tendency in myself and I’m working hard to try to change it.
Those who feel compelled to just say SOMETHING often bombard grievers with platitudes, comparisons to their own grief or just empty, frivolous words that require we either stand there dumbfounded or find a gracious way to exit the conversation.
It’s especially painful for a broken heart when a well-meaning someone decides THIS is the moment for a theology lesson.
“God has something planned for you in this” or “God will use this for good”. (Romans 8:28-29)
“We don’t grieve as those without hope!” ( I Thessalonians 4:13)
“All our days are numbered.” (Psalm 139:16)
I get it-death is a heavy subject and the death of a child isn’t something anyone wants to talk about, contemplate or be forced to wrestle with. So it’s often easier to simply say something-anything-do your duty and walk away.
But it is hardly helpful.
Deep grief as a result of unbearable loss is not a teaching moment.
It’s an opportunity to listen well, think carefully about if or when you need to say anything and simply offer compassionate companionship to a broken heart.
Grieving felt hardly like the time for being taught, at least initially. Early grief was my time for pulling out of my past those truths that I had already learned — out of my ‘basement — so that I could begin to assemble them together into something even more meaningful to me than before. It was the time for understanding that even though I had always believed in heaven, it now looked to my perceptions to be more real than this world. It was the time when, even though I already believed in God’s control of the world, I now felt dependent upon him being sovereign over it for all my hopes. It was the time for realizing that even though I already believed that Christ conquered death, I now longed to see death die.
I first shared this post two years ago when I was approaching the four year milestone of Dominic’s leaving for Heaven.
By that time most folks who knew me when he died had relegated that part of my story to some ancient past that surely I was over by now. I’d met others who had no clue my heart skipped a beat on a regular basis because one of my children was buried.
And even the closest ones-the ones I thought would understand forever-were sometimes impatient with my ongoing refusal to leave Dominic behind and be “healed” of my grief.
What I long for more than anything as the sixth anniversary of his departure draws near is simply this: Let me be me, whatever that looks like.
Don’t try to fit my journey into your mold.
Even in the very first hours after the news, my brain began instructing my heart, “Now, try to be brave. Try not to disappoint people. Try to say the right thing, do the right thing and be the example you should be.”
Whatever that meant.
As I made phone calls and received concerned friends and family members I was so aware that they would take a cue from me-how much can I say, how hard can I cry, should I hug or stand back, should I talk about him or be silent lest it make the tears fall harder?