Time and Time Again

Since Dominic ran ahead to heaven we have celebrated four graduations and a wedding.

Wednesday night was another one.  My daughter, Fiona, graduated nursing school.

We are so excited for her!

fiona grad jumping

And, as usual, our family rallied round, pitched in, showed up and made a great fuss over the accomplishment.

It was beautiful and hard all at the same time.

Because time and time again we join hands and hearts to celebrate an achievement, a milestone, a special moment or a holiday and there is always, always, always one missing.

Every photo is just slightly askew- one daughter, three two sons.

family fionas grad (2)

We’ve gotten good at closing ranks, squeezing out the space where he should be standing.  But our hearts mark the gap.

Our hearts will always mark the gap.

I am much better now at actually enjoying these things-I love the way my daughter’s friends surround and encourage her, I laughed at the antics of the children that enjoyed running from adult to adult, getting more attention than they knew what to do with.  I sat and listened with great pride as Fiona gave the closing remarks to her graduating class, drawing from a deep well of wisdom that includes heartache as well as hallelujahs.

And it was all good.  Really, truly  good.

But you have to go home eventually.

Hugging necks and saying “good-bye” is when it always hits me-I hug harder, cling longer, make sure to whisper not only “I love you” but everything I need to say-just in case.

And grown children text their mama so she knows they are safely home.

Dominic’s legacy is this:  We never miss a chance to celebrate one another.

We cling to the good and try to let go of the bad.

We love fiercely and openly and are not ashamed for one minute of our tears or our laughter.

Because you never know.

love the ones god gave you

 

Here We Go Again: Season of Joy-Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

I wrote this two years ago,  our second without Dominic.

This will be our fourth.

I’m still feeling my way along this path, still trying to figure out how to honor the missing and love the living in ways that are meaningful and helpful. I didn’t get a “how-to” book when my son died. I and other grieving hearts are doing the best we can.

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

Read the rest here:  Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Why I Still Put Up a Christmas Tree

It’s a question every hurting heart has to answer if you celebrate a traditional western Christmas:  Will I put up a tree this year?

christmas-tree-melanie-edited

I had a few months of lonely travel through the Valley of the Shadow of Death before I had to answer that one.

Dominic left us at Easter, so by December I had learned that wishing didn’t make anything better nor did it make decisions disappear.

As Christmas drew near, I just could not bring down the usual decorations from the attic.

So I didn’t.

Instead of trying to work up the courage to dig through boxes and decide what I could or could not bear to see that first year, I bought a new, small tree and put it atop the table in the living room.

How do you arrange pieces of happy memories in a world where everything has changed? How do you touch bits of who you used to be when you have no idea who you are right now?

I decided that even if I didn’t put one other decoration on it, I would have the company of sparkling lights in the darkness of winter evenings.

The lights remind me that the night has limits.

Their tiny twinkling helps me remember that even a small bit of hope is enough to hold on to.

merry-christmas-tree

This is the fourth Christmas since Dominic ran ahead to heaven and it is just as hard as the first one. 

Each year there are additional challenges and additional heartaches on top of the giant one I carry every day.  I’ve found that these years since he left I don’t do well with a lot of the trappings surrounding Christmas.

But what my heart holds onto is the promise of Christmas:

That the Baby became the Man and the Man was Messiah.

I light the lights because they remind me that darkness has limits.

I declare by my defiant act of celebration in the midst of heartache that one day every hard thing, every sad thing and every broken thing will be redeemed and restored.

My prayer for all the hurting hearts this year is that God will make His love real to you in ways you neither expect nor could imagine.

May you find some symbol this season that speaks courage and gives you strength to endure. 

And may the promise of Christmas give you hope, even in the darkest night.  

jesus-christmas

 

 

 

Ten Ways to Love a Mourning Heart at Thanksgiving

We are all on a journey through life and each carry some sort of load.  Mine is child loss.  Yours may be something else.

We can help one another if we try.  

Love and grace grease the wheels and make the load lighter.  

Here are ten ways to love a mourning heart at Thanksgiving:

1. Let them grieve.  Give space and grace for any outward display of grief or emotion.  It doesn’t require comment.  Maybe an outstretched hand or a tissue or maybe not.  Sometimes silence presence is best.

2. Begin conversation with statements that are true for you and then listen.  I appreciate someone sharing their heart with me.  It’s really OK to say, “Hey, I’ve wanted to reach out but I just didn’t know how.”  I would rather hear that than excuses.  ❤

3. Share a memory of their child or their pregnancy (if a child was born straight into heaven).  Whenever I hear a story about Dominic I may not have heard before, it is a gift.

4. Speak their child’s name.  It may make me cry.  But I cry anyway.  And if no one says his name I cry because I think they’ve forgotten.

5. Give them room to step away.  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed and I just need a breath of fresh air or a moment to gather my strength.  Don’t send the cavalry to “rescue” me and don’t make me feel bad by drawing attention to my absence when I return.

6. Find a way to commemorate their child in company with the living.  Light a candle, place a photo, set an honorary place at the table, give a gift in his memory to a charity and display the card-there are many ways to make him part of the holidays.

7. Allow them to participate/ not participate as they are able.  This will be our fourth set of holidays and I still don’t have a routine that feels “right”.  I do enjoy and even crave cooking meals so I appreciate being asked to do that.  Some other things are still hard so I appreciate not being forced to do those.

8. Don’t use this once or twice a year gathering to require an extended debrief of how they are feeling/coping/doing.  Invite me to share and then respect the boundaries I establish in my sharing.  It depends on the day whether I’m going to give you a brief response or a long one.  Let me lead the dance.

9. Try not to make assumptions about what is best for their heart.  Ask questions instead of making pronouncements.  Like I said, I still don’t have any traditions that feel right after nearly four years.  I need space to think about and make choices about what may work for THIS Thanksgiving.

10. Remember that all holidays are hard.  When the whole family gathers, it highlights even more that my son is missing.  Other times it’s easier to play a mental game with myself and pretend he’s just off somewhere.  But when the chairs are drawn around the table and his is empty, there’s no denying that he is gone, gone, gone.  Lots and lots of grace makes it easier for my heart. 

empty chair prayer

 

 

 

 

A Faint Echo

Just out of earshot my heart strains to hear the faint echo of Dominic’s voice-his humor, his lively sarcasm and biting wit I can almost convince myself that he’s there in the room as the two other boys banter back and forth. 

I’m used to a trio, not a duet. 

boys

It’s like the blues without a bass line. 

How can it be the same song and yet a different one altogether?

Oh, how I miss him!

for the rest of my life I will search for moments full of you

 

The Reality of Ongoing Grief in Child Loss

 

One of the most difficult things to explain to anyone who has not buried a child is this:  I didn’t just lose Dominic ONCE, I continue to lose him.

dom looking up with camera

I lose him every single time there is a moment when he SHOULD be here but isn’t.

I lose him when his friends graduate, get married and have children.

I lose him again on Christmas morning when HIS face isn’t around the breakfast table and HIS name isn’t on the presents around the tree.

I lose him when I need to call and ask a question about my computer or need his opinion when trying to make a decision.

I lose him when everyone else is making their way home for the holidays or a birthday or just a visit-his car never rolls up the lane, his smiling face never emerges, his arms never reach out to wrap me in a bear hug.

I lose him when his siblings line up for photos-the space where he SHOULD be but ISN’T looms large.

photo-36

I will never know the joy of standing at his wedding.

I will never be able to congratulate him on his first court victory.

I will never see his children

I won’t have his companionship in my old age.

He is gone-out of reach.

Untouchable.

Lost.

 

i will always wonder what you would have been