As happens often, multiple conversations, experiences and random social media posts rattle around in my brain and then sort themselves out into a brand new thought.
I realized (maybe for the first time with genuine feeling!) that I want people to know how my son lived and not only how or even that he died.
It was probably almost three years before I could mention Dominic’s name without also adding, “he was killed in a motorcycle accident” to anyone who didn’t already know that.
It wasn’t because I wanted sympathy or special consideration but because I honestly could not think about Dominic without placing every thought in the context of his death. I was so aware of his absence that it pushed everything else about him into the background.
I was also horribly jealous of what I had lost.
I needed to express how desperately I longed to have him back so tended to share details about his personality, accomplishments and pet peeves from my own perspective.
I was mainly looking at him through my eyes instead of seeing him as a whole person distinct from myself.
I wanted to curate his image in the eyes of others.
But Dominic had been his own man for a long time when he left this earth for Heaven. He made his own choices, had friends I never knew, read things and saw places beyond my experience.
When I insist on introducing him first as Dominic the missing member of the family instead of Dominic the man he had become, I make him smaller than he was (than he is!).
I don’t want to do that.
Even though I rarely insist on mentioning his death anymore in casual conversation unless asked directly, I realize that I want to do more than just NOT mention his death.
I want to comment on his life.
I want to tell folks that Dominic was one of the most talented drummers I’ve ever heard. I want them to know about his quirky sense of humor, his insistence on super soft clothing and irritation with people who took two parking spaces in crowded lots. I want to share how even though you’d swear he was never afraid, he often felt like maybe he wouldn’t measure up somehow.
I want you to know that he was adventurous, athletic, addicted to coffee and adrenaline and a fierce lover of justice and his family.
Yes, Dominic died.
But he lived, too.
And that’s really what I want people to know. ❤
If you are a fellow bereaved parent, please share something about what makes your child(ren) unique. What do you want others to know about him or her?
And I’m reminded once again how very important friends are along life’s journey.
So. many. people. have called, texted, messaged and expressed love and concern for our family.
It’s really encouraging!
But what I know, that others may not know (if they’ve been blessed to escape losing a close loved one so far) is that it’s not too long before all this attention fades away.
People usually don’t choose to stop connecting with broken hearts. It’s just that life gets busy and while grievers can’t ignore the palpable absence of their loved one, other folks have mostly filled in the space where they used to be.
Please don’t forget us.
Even years later, there are days when grief overwhelms a heart.
We NEED faithful friends to remind us that pain is not all that’s left in the world.
I remember the moment I realized I was going to have to summarize my son’s life into a few, relatively short paragraphs to be read by friends, family and strangers.
It seemed impossible.
But as the designated author of our family I had to do it so I did.
Today I wrote my mama’s obituary and though her death was not as surprising as Dominic’s it was just as hard to swallow.
Mama suffered a stroke a few days ago and along with her other health problems the prognosis wasn’t good. So our family gathered, said what needed to be said to one another and to her and settled in to wait and see if her will to live could overcome the odds.
She breathed her last in this world, fell asleep and woke up in Heaven at 1:45 am Friday morning.
I like to think that just after she saw Jesus she ran on to hug Dominic and her own sweet mama she’s been missing for seventy-one years.
I don’t know why I thought saying good-bye to my mama would be any easier than saying good-bye to my son.
Ain’t nothing easy about death.
Ain’t nothing easy about walking away from a hospital room or a morgue or an accident site knowing that whatever wasn’t said will never be said. Nothing easy about facing final arrangements, making phone calls, writing obituaries, finding photos for a slide show, wrapping up a life into a few words and a few songs and a few pictures.
My heart is used to the dull thumping pain of sorrow.
It’s grown accustomed to setting aside despair and doing what has to be done.
I know how to forge ahead and keep living and plan as if my world hasn’t imploded, making calendars and clocks and seasons and holidays irrelevant.
I’m sad today.
And I am all too aware that today’s sadness is small compared to what’s coming.
Compared to watching my son’s body lowered beneath the ground, watching my mama’s earthly shell lowered is easier.
She lived a beautiful, full and long life.
Still, there’s no way for the little girl inside this middle-aged woman to reconcile the fact that the world she inhabits no longer includes a mama she can touch.
I’m always torn between sharing about suicide awareness and just offering a listening ear to survivors of suicide.
On the one hand, I don’t want a single person who may be shouting warning signals to end up completing suicide because no one listened.
On the other, I want to protect bereaved parents and siblings from any additional guilt they may feel because they “missed” such signals.
But since suicide is at epidemic proportions in our country-especially among young people and veterans-I’m going to try to navigate the middle ground.
To anyone whose loved one left this life by suicide let me say this: You are not responsible! Even if in hindsight you feel like you missed cues or didn’t notice tell-tale signs, in the end it was their own action that led to death.
I do not believe suicide is selfish.
I believe suicide results from pain so unbearable a heart simply thinks there is no other way to end it. It’s not a conscious act as such, it’s a reflexive response to intense pain.
I also know that mental illness-often untreated because it is undiagnosed-wrecks havoc with the logical, reasoning part of a brain.
To those who may be contemplating suicide (something I know many, many bereaved parents think about) let me say this: If you are considering it, reach out.
You are a unique creation and cannot be replaced.
There are resources available and people not only willing, but LONGING, to help you hold onto hope.
As you fall deeper and deeper into the pit of despair, it’s easy to lose sight of the truth that darkness is not all that exists. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s nearly impossible of your own volition to will yourself out of the funk.
This is where suicide prevention has a role to play.
If someone seems “off”, don’t ignore it, dismiss it or excuse yourself from asking hard questions (even at the risk of being rebuffed or worse).
Often a single person extending a hand and listening ear at just the right moment grants space for a hurting heart to reconsider suicide as the only way out of pain. If they won’t respond in spite of your best efforts, enlist allies.
And walk gently among your fellow humans!
You may never know when your smile, opened door, random encouraging word or knowing glance is the difference between a stranger going home to end it all and going home and making a phone call to get help.
If yesterday’s verses were Paul’s closing arguments, these verses are his hallelujah!
When I am weak and weary and overwhelmed by the daily trudging uphill along the path of grief, my heart comes here.
Because truth is, over and over and over God has said in His Word, demonstrated by His actions and proved by His promises that love endures.
It was love that sought Adam and Eve in the garden.
Love that spoke to Noah and gave him strength to build the ark.
Love that drew Abram from the land of idolators, set him apart and made him father of nations.
Love that rescued the Israelites from Egypt.
Love that overwhelmed a young virgin and made her mother of Jesus the Christ.
And Love Incarnate that chose obedience unto death-even death on the cross-so that our sin debt was satisfied and the gates of Heaven opened wide to all who believe.
Love will not be denied.
Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’. 37 No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us. 38-39 I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 8: 35-39 PHILLIPS
There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God.
I am not powerful enough to do it.
Death is not powerful enough to do it.
Love reached down and resurrected Jesus.
Love will reach down and resurrect my son.
On my hardest days, my darkest days I remember this: as fierce as my mother love may be, it can’t hold a candle to the ferocious, eternal, unquenchable, undefeatable, reckless, perfect love of God.
When I am deep in despair, I remind my heart that all this love I have for my child(ren) is just a tiny drop compared to God’s love for me AND them. Does it help your heart to think about how fiercely God loves you and your child(ren)?
I have shared the story before of my son running barefoot through the woods, briers and all, to rescue one of our goats from between the teeth of two pit bulls. It’s my favorite picture of God’s redeeming, relentless, reckless love. Can you think of a personal example that reminds you of God’s enduring, unquenchable, unrelenting and rescuing love?
Theology matters. What I believe about who God is and what creation is in relationship to Him matters. If He made everything (and I believe He did) then it is all ultimately subject to His will. That is amazing reassurance. Nothing. No. Thing. can separate us from His love. No created thing is greater than its creator. Put that thought in your own words. What do you fear might separate you (or your child) from God’s love? In light of these verses, do you think that’s a reasonable conclusion? Why or why not?
Your love endures forever. Help me remember that. Open my eyes, Lord, that I may comprehend the depth, the width and the height of Your love. If I could grasp even a fraction of that, I’d never be afraid for a second that anything could get between You and me. Your love is relentless, reckless, pursuing and almighty. Nothing in creation can stop Your eternal, redeeming love.
My child may have made a foolish or even a sinful choice in his or her last moments on earth, but even that is not enough to separate him or her from You if they made a genuine profession of faith in Christ. How arrogant are we humans to think we can somehow undo the great redemptive work of the cross!
Thank You for this beautiful reminder in Paul’s words. Let them sink deeply into my spirit and bring life to my bones.