The Empty Chair

Most people realize that the “big” holidays are painful for bereaved parents-Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day-that makes sense.  

But what most people don’t know is that every single red-letter day-even the obscure ones-can be hard on parents missing a child.

Because any day that marks a departure from routine leaves gaps where I can dwell a little longer on the fact that Dominic is NOT here.

Any day off that lends itself to a family BBQ or celebration or just extra time around the table because we aren’t in a rush highlights that empty chair.  

ask me about the empty chair

 

Amazing Grace

I will be forever thankful that in the years just before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I spent each morning lingering long over Scripture.  I had just completed filling my fifth journal, copying entire chapters and making notes about what God revealed as I wrote and read.

Because if I had not been so thoroughly steeped in truth before it happened, I’m not sure I would have listened to it afterward.

I understand how hearts are hardened by tragedy.    

It’s a wonder that any heart remains soft at all.  

Only God’s amazing grace has kept me from turning away.  

Only His steadfast love has kept me from leaving it all behind.  

not doubting wondering how painful the best will be.jpg

 

 

Closed For Repairs

Oh how I wish I could hang a sign for just a single day, “Closed for Repairs”!

I keep thinking that tomorrow or next week will be the little bit of respite I need to catch my breath and to do a few things I really must do for my own mental wellness.

But life has conspired to make that impossible.  

So here I am, hanging on by a thread again.  

Just barely managing to get by.  

Just barely managing to not scream in the middle of the grocery store when I can’t lift the case of Powerade bottles into the cart.  Just barely able to contain my panic when I reach for my checkbook and can’t find it in the bottom of my purse.  Just barely able to keep from crying when the bag rips putting it into the truck.

If the people around me knew how close I am to falling apart or breaking down, they would run away in fear of what might happen if I blow.  

Yes, it’s been three years.

But Dominic walked with me on this earth for nearly 24 years. Three years isn’t long enough to adjust to his absence.

I need a day off.

Or a week.  

Or a year.  

 

 

 

 

 

Missing Milestones

Another friend has a new grandchild.  

It makes my heart so happy to see families grow and prosper.  I love the fresh sweetness of newborn wrinkles and chubby fists.

If I’m honest I have to admit that for every smile that spreads wide across my face in response to posted pictures, there is a tear that slips down from the corner of my eye.

I wish I could feel unadulterated joy like I used to.

But I can’t. 

It is impossible for there to be any progeny bearing his smile, his laughter, his brown eyes and overgrown eyebrows.  The rhythm that filled his head and tapped, tapped, tapped down the bannister is buried underground.

And that is hard to bear.  

Losing a child is not a single event. 

It happens over and over and over.

future has changed

 

 

 

 

No Words

Some days there are just no words for this journey.

Sometimes I can only feel what I feel

and do what I do

and cry when I cry.

Today is like that.

I cannot wrap my mind around the FACT that my son is dead.

Am I somehow defective because I can’t?

Can any parent do that?

I know it’s true-I’m not in denial.

But knowing something is true and embracing it as true are two different things.  I am forced to walk in the world but not always forced to confront Dominic’s absence.

He could just be on a trip, or away at school, or out of cell phone range. It’s funny the tricks your mind will play to placate your heart.

But this morning when the light pushed back against the darkness my mind refused to continue the charade.

In a moment of clarity, the sword of truth penetrated my soul.

And here I am, naked and bleeding clinging to the fact that I am mother to a dead son.

Nowhere to hide.  No way to escape.

No words.

sound of my heart from the inside

 

Emotional Bankruptcy: I Can’t Spend the Same Energy Twice

I wasn’t born with an “I don’t give a hoot” gene.

When I commit to a person, a project or a problem, I’m all in-no holding back.

That’s why this side of Dominic’s leaving I’ve been very cautious about making commitments. But in the past year I’ve begun branching out and joining in again.

In many ways it has been a positive experience.

In other ways, not so much.

Last evening was one of those times.

Some critical tasks are undone for a large project where deadlines are fast approaching. They are not my assigned tasks although I could perform them if I had the time and/or energy.

But I just don’t have either one.

So there is friction and panic and rush in the group that didn’t need to be there.  I won’t withdraw-I’m committed to fulfill my responsibilities but now I am burdened with all this negative emotional energy.

It followed me home and try as I might I was unable to regather my peace of mind.

I had spent all the emotional reserve I had for yesterday on keeping my responses controlled and relatively kind when people were trying to foist extra responsibilities on me as we walked out the door.

By the time I went to bed I was emotionally bankrupt.

The little bit of extra I depend on each night to keep my mind and heart focused on positive things as I drift off to sleep was spent.

I had nothing left.

I got to the edge of sleep over and over and the thought, “Dominic is dead.” flashed like lightning through my mind.  The thought brought horrible feelings with it.  I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I tried.

Eventually, exhausted, I fell asleep.  It was an awful sleep.  I woke up many times to the same thought all night long.  I will suffer for it today-sluggish and unable to concentrate.

THIS is why I can’t afford to get involved like I used to before Dominic ran ahead to heaven-not because I don’t care or I don’t want to-but because I CAN’T.

I cannot spend the same emotional energy twice.

I’ve only got so much to give.

daring to set boundaries brene brown

 

 

Be Free to Celebrate [or Not!]

One of the most challenging things that faced me immediately after Dominic’s funeral was that we had two college graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, his birthday, a wedding and my own thirtieth wedding anniversary within two months.

Thankfully we had some amazing friends and family that stepped up and filled in the gaps.

How do you celebrate when your heart is broken?  

How do you make merry when you can barely make it out of bed?

How do you NOT cheat your living children when you’ve buried their sibling?

In the three years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven we have marked the occasions above as well as Christmases, Thanksgivings, my father’s 80th birthday, my husband’s 65th birthday, my daughter’s graduation with a master’s degree and receiving Dominic’s posthumous diploma from the University of Alabama School of Law.

In between these mountain tops were multiple hills of accomplishment that required more or less recognition and affirmation.

So the question comes up:  “How should I celebrate [fill in the blank] now that my child is gone?”

The short answer is:  However best suits your broken heart, the wishes of your immediate grieving circle and your circumstances.  

And you owe no one else an explanation of why you make that choice.

Now, I’ll warn you that not all the choices you make will be received well by others who might be impacted by your decision.  Extended family, no matter how much they may want to understand, often won’t.

I get that-traditions are hard to turn loose.  Family habits are hard to change.  If everyone is used to getting together to open Christmas presents it can seem selfish when one person says they just can’t do it.

But no one but a grieving parent can truly understand that the most random things can trigger uncontrollable anxiety and overwhelming sorrow.  And no one but a grieving parent can know how much energy it takes to JUST SHOW UP.

Every single time my son SHOULD be here with us but ISN’T, is another stark and undeniable reminder that he is gone, gone, gone.

So this is how I make the decision about how to celebrate [or not!] any particular holiday or occasion:  I ask my husband and children first what will best meet their needs, feed their souls, help them face the day with minimal stress and/or sorrow.

Then I stack that against the expectations of others that may be involved.  Where they overlap, we join in.  Where they don’t, we politely decline.  And if there is a way to bend standing traditions to accomodate our grief, I will often propose a compromise.

I try to be thoughtful and plan ahead.  I try to let anyone else involved know as far in advance that we will either be participating (or not) so they can make their own plans. But I reserve the right to back out last minute if I wake up and find out I simply can. not. face. the. day.

So far I’ve realized that having a plan takes a great deal of stress out of the system.  Being honest with extended family and friends is so much better than trying to fake it and finding out halfway through the meal I just can’t.  Choosing to stay home is kinder than making a scene and ruining the gathering for everyone.

Sometimes my suggestions have been met with resistance.

That’s just going to be part of this life.  

I’m learning to stand up and speak my truth even when others don’t understand or like it.  I work at being kind but I won’t be bowled over by someone else’s lack of compassion.

So much of life this side of loss is outside our control.  We do not have to live up to other’s expectations of how or when or where we celebrate [or don’t!] birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.

None of us chose to be bereaved parents.

No one but us has to carry this heavy burden.

If we are going to do it well, we will have to make choices about the battles we fight and the additional burdens we allow others to place upon us.

It’s OK to say, “No.”  It’s OK to do things differently.  It’s OK to not do them at all.  

Be free!

authenticity brene