I Know Why My Story Scares You

At first all I could feel was pain.

Pain of abandonment, of being misunderstood, of being pushed to the outside edges of groups that used to welcome me with open arms.

But as time passed, I began to understand.

My story scares you.  You are utterly afraid that if child loss can happen to ME, it can happen to YOU.

You’re right.

It CAN happen to you.

And no one wants to be reminded that the one thing every parent fears is not nearly as impossible nor as predictable as we would hope it is.

From the minute we take that baby home from the hospital, safely tucked in the approved and properly installed car seat, we assume we can control the future.  We think that if we eat right, get regular check ups, cover outlets and sharp corners, remove choking hazards and stuff that little mouth full of organic and healthful treats, it’s all good.

Except no one can account for random.  No one can see undetected and unsuspected genetic defects.  No one can predict or protect against every way a child might leave this life before his or her parents.

But we absolutely, positively do not want to think about that.

I don’t blame you.

I didn’t either.

So I understand why you distance yourself from me.  I get why even my presence in a room is sometimes uncomfortable.  I am not upset that you don’t add my name to the invitation list when the occasion is happy and you are afraid I might cast a shadow over the celebration.

I’m a walking advertisement for your worst nightmare.

You can afford to ignore it-and me.

I don’t have that luxury.

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

 

How Can It Be Five Years??!!

We all experience it from time to time-that moment when your head comprehends that life has kept going but your heart refuses to keep pace.  

So today, I’m looking at a calendar that assures me it has been five years since that deputy knocked on my door. 

It’s a fact.  

My heart says, “It cannot be true.  It cannot be that long since I saw my living, breathing son cross the threshold of our family home.  It cannot be that long since I made the phone calls that still echo in my ears.  It can. not. possibly. be. that. long.”

And yet it is.  

If folks ask me how I’m doing, how my family is doing, I usually say we are OK.

Because, all things considered, we ARE. 

beach-and-family-better

None of us find daily life unmanageable.  None of us have fallen prey to addiction or unhealthy coping mechanisms.  None of us sit inside all day, moping and mourning the loss of a life we couldn’t hold onto even if we had seen it slipping away in time to take a firmer grip.

But we are absolutely, utterly, profoundly CHANGED.  

I often think back to old Star Trek episodes that showed crew members transporting to the surface of an unknown planet.  Their bodies were broken down into the tiniest component molecules and reassembled somewhere else.

I think that’s what this life is like. 

We’ve all been disassembled and reassembled. 

But instead of everything falling back into place, there are missing bits here and there, gaps too small for others to see but very, very real to us.  Connections lost.  Memories without proper context.

dont recognize myself without one of my sons

Feelings floating free of any anchor, bubbling up at the most inconvenient moments.  

And we all just plain MISS HIM.

We miss Hector Dominic DeSimone and who he is, what he brought to the table and car rides and family gatherings.

We miss who we were before we knew loss that burrows deep in your bones.  We miss the unmitigated joy and celebration we could toss around like confetti at the slightest provocation.

So today, unlike most days, we will give in to the sorrow.  We will remember that morning.  We won’t brush away the tears or the sad memories.  

He is worth every second and every heartache.

He is never forgotten.  

He is always, always on our minds.  

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For You, a Moment; For Me, a Lifetime

I used to look at tombstones in cemeteries and do the math between the dates. 

I was most focused on how long this person or that person walked the earth. 

I still do that sometimes.  But now I do something else as well. 

I look to the left and the right to see if the person who ran ahead left parents behind.  My eye is drawn to the solitary stones with the same last name next to a double monument clearly honoring a married pair.

grieving mother at grave

And then I do a different kind of math. 

I count the years between the last breath of the child and the last breath of his or her mama.

Because while that first date marked an end for everyone else, for the mama, it marked the beginning of the rest of her life- a life she never imagined nor would have chosen.  

I wonder how many lives have been cut short by the effects of grief.  I know some folks have tried to research it, but it’s so hard.  Because grief ends up doing things to bodies that look like aging or like other disease processes and it’s really difficult to tease it out.

But those of us who live this life know. 

We know.  

What’s a moment for everyone else, is a lifetime for us.  What is a date on the calendar, a trip to a funeral home, a casserole delivered to a door in hopes of lifting spirits for everyone else, is so much more for us.

grief as timeless as love

I don’t begrudge your ignorance. 

I celebrate it! 

My heart breaks every single time another name is added to the roles of “bereaved parent”.

I think a lot about the generations gone before.  Before vaccinations, before penicillin, before so many modern blessings that lengthen life and give hope where there used to be none.

I think about the families involved in WWI and WWII.  I understand the need to call the first war “The Great War” and assume such atrocities would stop mankind from falling headlong into them again.

But it didn’t.  

So, so many families that made the highest sacrifice. 

So, so many parents that hung that photo of their son or daughter on the wall and never moved it-because they were as frozen in time as their child.  

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

I have a friend who does home-based physical therapy.  She often goes to the homes of elderly patients and lovingly and gracefully listens to their stories.  If it is part of their history, they almost always point out the child who never grew older and tell the tale of how much they miss him or her.

It’s so, so hard for others to understand how very different child loss and out-of-order death is from any other loss in this life.  

But it is not a moment.  

It is not even a week or month or years.  

It’s a lifetime. 

We miss them and mourn them for a lifetime.  

grief is a pain that cant be spoken goes on and on

 

Spring Isn’t All Sunshine And Flowers For Me

Like most of us I am enjoying the change from cold and wet to warm and sunny.  

Spring breezes and spring sunshine usher in fresh beauty and speak hope to a heart.  It reminds me that the earth will not always be locked in darkness nor be a frozen wasteland.  

But spring isn’t all sunshine and flowers for me.  

It’s death and dying and tears and heart wrenching reminders that no matter how hard we try to hold onto life in THIS life, we can’t.

Right now I’m holding my dying cat.  He’s been a faithful companion for thirteen years. 

I’ve had many, many wonderful animals in my life but none have come close to being the constant shadow and empathetic friend that Roosevelt is.  His warm body snuggled into my arms like an infant every morning has been a touchstone that kept me from floating away in grief’s inviting fog.

I will miss him.  

Death is awful. 

death matters lewis

I do not equate Roosevelt’s death with Dominic’s.  There isn’t a scale conceivable that would measure the distance between the two.

But one of the things I’m learning in this Valley is that every death taps the same wound.  Every death hurts my heart.  Every death reminds me that this life is not as it ought to be, not as God intended it to be when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden.

how terrible it is to love something that death can touch

And every death reminds me that Christ came, Christ suffered, Christ conquered precisely BECAUSE death. is. awful.

Resurrection is coming.  

But it is not yet.  

So I wait.  

In hope.  

Clinging to the promises.  

life is eternal and death a horizon

 

**My faithful companion died in my arms- peacefully and without pain. ***

How Terrible It Is To Love Something That Death Can Touch

I know as a believer in Jesus I’m supposed to be able to look beyond “this mortal veil” and treat death as a mere “address change”.

Well, I can’t.

Death is the enemy and I do not experience it as simply a transition from one state to another.

The last enemy to be abolished and put to an end is death.

~I Corinthians 15:26 AMP

Death is a reminder of all that is wrong with this earth.  It’s a reminder that sin is costly.  It’s a reminder that this world is not my true home.

find in ourselves a longing c s lewis

It’s just plain wrong!

I hated death long before I counted my own son among the casualties.

Living on a farm, we have buried everything from domestic livestock to random wildlife that wandered up, wounded and we tried to save.  I have hatched eggs found in disturbed nests,  loved on baby rabbits, squirrels, deer and woodchucks, nursed abandoned kittens, lambs and goat kids.  Many of them didn’t survive and every one took a bit of my heart when they breathed their last.

how terrible it is to love somthing that death can touch memorial stone

I have said “good-bye” to my 99 year old aunt, my grandmothers, my grandfathers and my own son.

There is nothing pretty about death.  It wasn’t in God’s original plan and I hate it.

Lately, I’ve been worrying about my “therapy” cat-Roosevelt.  He’s aging.  And all things being equal, he won’t last much longer.

r and christmas

 

He sat in my lap as I recovered from numerous surgeries and hospitalizations.

And he stayed with me as I received concerned family and friends when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  I don’t know what I would have done without his warm weight holding me in the chair when all I wanted to do was run away and hide.

hand-coffee-roosevelt

He has been a compassionate companion in many sad and lonely moments-never asking for a thing and giving so much with his presence and unconditional love.

Every night he sleeps beside me, snuggled down tight against my neck, purring peacefully.

But he’s getting old and I am becoming fearful that I don’t have too many more years left with him.  I hate that most nights I drift off to sleep thinking he won’t be here much longer.

And then I feel guilty.

Because the death of my cat (when it happens) can’t begin to touch the depth of pain of the death of my son.  It seems, though, that every death taps that wounded spot in my soul.

dominic at olive garden

But every death-whether a person or an animal I love-opens the floodgate of sadness I work so very hard to keep behind the dam.

I know I’m not supposed to borrow trouble from tomorrow and I work hard not to do that. 

I’m working hard to cherish each moment with everyone I love without worrying that it may be one of the last. 

It’s a fine line I walk every day.  

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Child Loss: Marking the Milestones

When your child is born you take notes.

You plan to mark this day as a special milestone for the rest of your life.

You absolutely, positively NEVER think you will have to mark another one:  the day he or she leaves this life and leaves you behind.

But some parents have to mark both.  The dash in the middle is shorter than we anticipated, and our child’s life ends before ours.

grieving mother at grave

So how do you do it?  How in the world do you observe the polar opposite of a birthday?

Here are some ideas (shared with permission) that parents shared recently in an online discussion sparked by one mom’s very honest admission that she just didn’t have it in her to create another video montage from the same old photos to mark yet another year without the earthly companionship of her precious son:

Don’t do anything.  That is an option. We do not have to draw a red circle around THAT day on the calendar, gather folks as if  it’s a celebration.  As one mama said, “Yes, the day they left us does not need to be ‘remembered’.”  For some parents, going to work like it’s a regular day, engaging in whatever normal activities are required, ticking the hours off on the clock until night falls and the earth turns to the next day may be the very best choice.  Another mama wrote this:  “I have friends who celebrate a ‘heaven day’ for their son.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  If it were up to me, I would probably go camp somewhere all alone, and not move a muscle for the entire day.”

Do something big (or small).  Some parents choose this day to hold an annual “Celebration of Life”.  It might take the form of a balloon release, or lantern release at home, at a park or other outdoor venue or at the cemetery.  It might be lunch or dinner out at your child’s favorite restaurant or at home with your child’s favorite menu.  Invite friends and family to join you and ask that they bring a photograph or memory and share.  One mom said that such an event kind of happened organically and spontaneously when contacted by her son’s widow:  “We went to one of [his] favorite restaurants.  Told funny stories about him, talked about how missed he is, then went o his grave and put fresh flowers.”

balloon release

Serve others.  Did your child have a special interest in a particular charity or community organization?  Maybe you can spend this day volunteering or raising awareness/money for that group.  Often having something to do helps a heart from sinking into despair.  If the group allows, maybe put up a sign saying, “Volunteering today in honor of __________” and attach appropriate photos of your child.  Some parents whose child died from cancer or suicide or violence participate in walks or fundraisers that highlight those causes.

Encourage Random Acts of Kindness (RAK).  I plan to do this one in April.  It will be five years (!) and I can barely stand it.  But so many of the comments from Dominic’s friends after he left for Heaven went something like this one, “He was always doing something for someone else.  Fixing their car or showing up when they needed an encouraging word.”  He was known for his many acts of generosity and kindness and I feel like he lives on in the hearts of others because of that.  I had cards printed ( I intentionally let his “dates” off) which I will distribute well in advance of April 12th for friends and family to leave behind when they do a RAK in memory of Dom.  Vistaprint and other online publishing companies offer reasonable prices and will guide you through the process step-by-step.

random act of kindness

Escape.  Lots of us find being at home (alone or in the company of others) too hard to bear.  Many received word of their child’s death at home and as the day creeps closer, the memories crowd every corner of mental and physical space and are inescapable.  So sometimes parents plan a trip around this time.  Go somewhere your child would have loved to go or go somewhere he or she enjoyed visiting.  Take photos and post them in honor of your child if you want to.

Focus on family.  You may not want to be alone, but the thought of being with anyone outside your closest grief circle is overwhelming.  That’s OK.  Spend time with the people who, like you, are most affected by your child’s absence.  You don’t have to do anything special.  You can make room for them to speak or not speak about their grief as they choose.  Sometimes just having another warm body in the room is enough to ward of the chill of despondency.

grieving dad

Flip the script.  For those of us who believe that this life is not all there is, the day can be one of celebration.  Our children have escaped life full of sorrow and trouble and are safe forever in the arms of Jesus, where we will also be one day.  Waiting is hard, but waiting is not forever.

Simply allow yourself to feel the full force of missing and grief.  “As far as his death day, for me, that is a day when I allow myself to fully feel and express the pain of my loss.  It is a way to (temporarily) empty myself of all this pain, so I can breathe again to face another day.  I will sit in his sweatshirt, listen to reflective music, cry a lot, talk to him, pray to God, and just allow myself to feel all the pain and emotion that everyday responsibilities cause me to stuff away.”  If you can manage it, taking the day off work and giving yourself grace and space to grieve in ways that are denied so often may be the very best way to experience the day.

Here’s a list of ways some parents honor their child on this day:  

  • Giving away stuffed toys with a card or note explaining why.
  • Taking goodies to first responders and/or nurses who were served their family during an accident or illness.
  • Handing out Bibles or books in memory of their child.
  • Making memory baskets for parent whose child will be born straight into heaven.
  • Adding to a scholarship fund or other charitable fund in honor of their child.
  • Placing balloons, flowers or other special decorations on their child’s final resting place.
  • Lighting candles, releasing butterflies, balloons or lanterns.
  • Placing a memorial advertisement in a local paper.

Do or don’t do whatever helps you make it through those twenty-four hours that represent another year of sorrow, another year of missing.  

missing child from arms

There is NO wrong way to mark or not mark this day. 

It’s up to you and your heart.  

And absolutely does not require anyone else’s permission or approval.  

dont trade authenticity for approval

 

 

Shadows and Celebrations

One of my children told me recently that every celebration and holiday over the past few years had a shadow over it. 

I know.

But I can’t help it.

I wish I could find a light bright enough to drive out the shadows.

But there isn’t.

I’m trying.  Really, truly trying.  I want to be able to join in without reserve, without that still small voice whispering, “This won’t last”, in my head.

Because that’s really the shadow, isn’t it?

Not *just* the one who is missing, the incomplete family photo, the empty chair at the dinner table-but the fact that I know, know, know what I didn’t used to know.

I know life is fleeting and death can come for anyone at any time.

I wish I could forget that lesson.

Because that is what casts the longest shadow.

you think you have forever but you don't