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.  

IMG_2089

 

 

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

 

When Your First Thought Is, “Oh No, Not Again!”

Last night I woke to my youngest son’s ringtone at nearly midnight.

I missed the call but when I looked, realized it was the third time he’d tried.  

My heart skipped several beats as I dialed him back only to have it go directly to voicemail.  I tried again and a second later, he answered.

“What’s wrong??!!!”

(Because he never calls me late at night unless something is wrong!)

Julian was downstairs at the front door and needed me to let him in because he’d received some odd texts from his dad- a series of random letters and emojis scrolled across his screen.

He’d tried to call him.  No answer. 

Tried texting him back.  No message except more of the same random letters and images.  

So he drove over from his house just a few miles away, the whole time running a dozen scenarios through his head.

  • “Is dad having a stroke? Mom is asleep upstairs and won’t know.”
  • “Is someone in the house and dad’s only able to randomly swipe his thumb on the screen trying to ask for help?”
  • “Why won’t mom answer her phone?  Do they have her too?”

Five miles and ten minutes is a lifetime when all you can think of is another family member needing help- or worse.  

As I was coming downstairs to let Julian inside, my husband woke up and asked me what was wrong.  We got to the door at the same moment and let our big, burly bear of a son inside.

It took him a split second to realize that all was well and then it poured outthe fear, the panic, the intense self-control necessary not to simply break down the door and barge in, the pent up grief that lives inside each one of us since Dominic left and is always about to spill out and over when we think of another loss.  

He melted into his dad’s arms.  

This is how our hearts are wired since that morning nearly five years ago. 

When the thing you never think will happen, happens, it becomes the first thing you think of when you can’t get in touch with someone. 

Panic is always a breath away.  

family never gets over the death of a loved one

 

Repost: Nothing “Normal” About It

Something you hear early on in this grief journey is that one day you will find a “new normal”.

I hate that phrase.

Because while I have certainly developed new routines, new ways of dealing with life, new methods for quelling the tears and the longing and the sorrow and the pain-it is NOT normal.

It will never be “normal” for my son to be missing.

Read the rest here:  Nothing “Normal” About It

Why, “Just Think About All The Good Memories,” Doesn’t Comfort My Heart

I pull out the memories like treasures from a locked strongbox.

“Handle With Care” because they are all I have left.

But they are not enough.

They will never be enough to satisfy this mama’s heart.

We are supposed to have to remember our elders, our grandparents, even, maybe our spouse at some point-but not our children.

I knew my son from before he made his entrance into the wide world.  He had already danced his way into my heart before he took his first step on solid ground.  He was part of me from the moment of conception.

I waited breathlessly to see his face for the first time.

I never expected that I would also see it for a last time.

We all have people we expect to outlive-our grandparents, our parents, elderly friends and neighbors-but not our child.

As our loved ones age, the wise among us begin to catalog and carefully store all those “lasts” or soon-to-be “lasts”.  We ask for stories to make sure we can keep telling them.  We take extra photographs, make extra phone calls and write down recipes.

I was living life forward with Dominic-just like all my kids.  We were a busy, busy family and I was never very good at scrapbooking or saving up the ordinary flotsam of everyday life.

dom age 2 sunscreen

So while I have some pictures, memorabilia and tokens of his too-short life, I don’t have nearly enough.  Oh, how I wish I had more!  Not to create a museum or a shrine but to help my poor brain remember.

When someone says, “Just think of the good memories” it triggers all kinds of emotions and not one of them is what the person intends when giving me that advice.

I feel guilty-guilty for all the things I CAN’T remember. 

Dominic is my third child and only 19 months older than his younger brother.  There are so many gaps from those early years because I was overwhelmed and tired.  Why can’t I conjure up images of him at 3 or 4? 

That hurts.

I feel incredibly sad-sad that whatever memories I DO have are all I will ever have.  I had the memories BEFORE my son wasn’t walking with me and had planned on making many more.

So focusing on memories brings little solace.

Even  at 4 1/2 years into this journey, I’m torn when I pull out the memories.

I can smile now about many of them, but it’s always bittersweet.

Because this treasure trove is as large as it will ever be. 

Love Doesn’t Die

I’ve written many times about the fact that my heart still holds all the love it ever did for ALL my children-even the one who no longer walks beside me here on earth.

That’s one of the reasons I will never stop speaking of him-just as I never stop speaking of my living children. 

It’s also why I cling tenaciously to the lesson I am learning this side of child loss:  Love lives. 

It lives in me, through me and is waiting for me in Heaven.  

I ran across this lovely poem just recently.  

I hope you like it as much as I do.  
<3

Epitaph
By Merrit Malloy

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old me that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away.