I know I’m not the only one who carries a calendar in my head that threatens to explode like a ticking timebomb.Days that mean nothing to anyone else loom large as they approach.
The date of his death.
The date of his funeral.
The day he should have graduated from law school
On and on and on.
How can I survive these oppressive reminders of what I thought my life would look like? How can I grab hold of something, anything that will keep my heart and mind from falling down the rabbit hole of grief into a topsy-turvy land where nothing makes sense and it’s full of unfriendly creatures that threaten to gobble me whole?
There are some things I’d like you to know about grief.
Things I didn’t know until I was the one walking the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Things that can help you companion me and others compassionately, wisely and graciously.
My grief is here-get used to it (please and thank you). Grief has entered my life and while it may be an unwelcome guest, it’s here to stay. I won’t be getting over it or moving on. Grief is the price you pay for love. I will love and miss my child as long as I live, so I will grieve him until my last breath.
The goal of grief isn’t to forget. In fact, the goal of grief work (facing and working through my feelings, my fears and finding a way forward) is to remember and remain connected. I no longer have a physical relationship with my child. I’m trying to figure out how to have one with him in his absence.
I have to do grief my own way. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Who I am, who my child is, what my family looks like, circumstances surrounding my loss, previous life experience all inform how I face this challenge. There is no “right way” to grieve. As long as I am not harming myself or others, there’s only “my way” to grieve.
I am the same person, but I’ve also changed. I know you are trying to figure me out post-child loss. I’m trying to figure me out too. I didn’t get a how-to manual when I buried my son. Even six years into this journey I’m still finding ways in which I am profoundly changed. But I’m also still the same person that needs your friendship and longs for compassionate connection. It’s work for both of us but I don’t want to be alone in my grief.
Even when I’m OK, I’m still grieving. It’s normal for friends and family to look for signs I’m “better”. The early days of sobbing and unceasing pain do (usually) morph into a more gentle, quiet and manageable burden. But even when I’m laughing, participating and gathering new, joy-filled memories I’m grieving. My son’s absence is background music to every moment. I’m never free from the feeling he should be here but isn’t.
I may stay connected to my loved one in ways you don’t understand, but trust me, they’re normal. There are SO many ways hearts work hard to stay connected to their missing child! Dominic’s jacket is hung on a peg in our mudroom right where he left it the last time he was home. I see it every day and touch it often. There are other little mementos here and there that keep his presence part of daily life. I have tokens I carry in a pocket that help me take him with me. Other parents sleep with a favorite stuffed toy or their child’s pillow. Some make blankets of old t-shirts or clothing. It’s all normal.
Grief will visit every heart eventually.
If it hasn’t come to rest in yours yet, consider yourself blessed.
I’m sure you have at least one friend carrying this burden.
When you take time to try to understand even a little how they feel, you help them bear the load. ❤
I continue to be surprised by how my body betrays me in this post-child loss world.
A simple, relatively painless procedure brought me to my knees and there was nothing I could do about it.
I had a last minute appointment with a new specialist the other day because my rheumatologist wanted a dermatology consult.
So I hauled myself downtown (first time since all this pandemic stuff started!), parked, temperature checked and entered the brave new world of mostly empty waiting rooms populated by masked people looking at their phones.
Once I was called back into the room, the medical assistant took my vitals and I waited for the doctor. As I waited, I realized that this would be the first time I was seen by a health professional who didn’t know I had buried a child. But at six years into this journey, I dismissed it as inconsequential to the day’s business.
The exam went well and confirmed some suspicions. Just when I thought things were over the room suddenly morphed from “exam” to prepping for a “procedure”. They needed to take a small biopsy to rule out or rule in the diagnosis.
Now, I’ve had all kinds of uncomfortable and downright painful things done to me. I’m no whiner (although I do not like anyone to give me a play-by-play). I sit still, grit my teeth and put up with whatever comes my way.
But as I watched the nurses prep the tray I realized I was getting anxious. I applied all my little tricks-the 5-4-3-2-1 sensory tool, deep breathing, touching each finger to my thumb-and thought I was victorious.
When the doctor injected the lidocaine it really did feel just like tiny bee stings.
And then suddenly, unexpectedly and uncontrollably my world began to spin, my breath became ragged and I knew for certain I was headed toward passing out.
It was so embarrassing.
I apologized over and over and over.
But they were great.
The doctor said it was a vagal nerve response and I had no control over it. My body was reacting to stimuli and no amount of willpower could make it stop.
She finished up, the nurse brought me some cold water and I sat in the room for fifteen or twenty minutes to recover. I tried at one point to get up and realized I wasn’t quite ready.
I drove home but felt drained for the rest of the afternoon.
I don’t know why doctor’s offices seem to provoke my grief. Dominic didn’t enter Heaven from a hospital room.
But for some reason, they do.
And while I am so much more in control of when and how I let the grief roll down my cheeks NOW than I was even a year ago, there are times when my body acts against my will.
When that happens, I need to remember it isn’t a choice.
Every day I am holding in so very much. Choosing to spare the world from my inner turmoil and moments of weakness.
In case you’re wondering if joy will ever return, I want to assure you that it most certainly can.
It will take a lot longer than you wish it might, but it is there, waiting for you to welcome it.
At first it just felt WRONG to have a moment of happiness because if the pain of missing Dominic somehow didn’t fill my heart I was afraid it meant my love for him was fading. If the broken pieces were knitted back together then maybe one day they’d mend so well I couldn’t find the spot where he fit in.
But I’ve learned no amount of present joy will squeeze out that space where Dominic lives.
I can love him, miss him, sorrow over his absence and still revel in the beautiful blessings the Lord brings into my life.
Just this week I had the privilege of watching my grandson while his mother and father had a little time away. It was so much fun (and hard work!). I had forgotten how exciting it is to view the world through a young child’s eyes. Everything is new, everything is wonderful, everything is worthy of exploration and comment.
The little fellow walked down the hall my great-grandmother walked, my grandmother walked and my mother walked pointing a finger and asking, “This?” as he passed photos and paintings, doo dads and doorways.
The sixth generation to hear the creaking hardwood and learn about life.
We showed him family photos and talked about Uncle Dominic. It raised a lump in my throat each time but it also helped me place Dom in his story-helped me learn how to talk about the uncle he will never know except for what we share.
I’m not going to lie.
More than a few times tears threatened to make their way down my cheek as I held his little hand and remembered holding another one just like it decades ago. Nostalgia can be hard to swallow when it’s all you have left of someone you love.
But I reminded my heart that it is big enough for both.
I can miss what I once had ANDdelight in what I have now.
There’s a saying in the South, “You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill”.
It’s supposed knock sense into someone who is overreacting to a small and easily resolved problem. Most of the time it works-stepping back and gaining perspective is a good thing.
But I find that this side of Dominic’s leaving, many, many things that were mole hills before are MOUNTAINS now. Because my faith in my own ability to handle things has become so very small, nearly any challenge feels like a never-ending ascent up the mountain.
When we cleaned out Dominic’s apartment two weeks after he left us, I couldn’t throw away a thing.
Even though it meant boxing it up, carting it down the stairs and loading and unloading it onto our trailer, I DIDN’T CARE.
If it was his, if his hands had touched it, his body worn it or he had placed it in the cabinet or fridge, it was coming with me.
The only thing I left in that space was the empty echo of his fading presence.
I brought all the rest home.
Because these things aren’t just things.They represent some portion of my son-his personality, his preferences, his history and his hopes.
Many are the minutiae that make up a life:
scraps of paper tucked inside his briefcase as reminders
a dry cleaning ticket in his wallet
a legal pad on the table where he was taking notes to study for an exam
receipts from recent purchases strewn on the kitchen counter
shaving cream, hair products, favorite soap
clothes and ties and shoes
a fridge full of food he’d chosen for himself
the good coffee
containers saved from food I’d sent home with him
Of course there were the larger items most folks would think of bringing home if not keeping-furniture, computers, his car, television and stereo.
We put the delicate and temperature sensitive things inside the house.
The rest was placed in a storage building on our property. Every time I opened the door to the building for several years it smelled of Dominic.
I loved it and hated it in one breath.
I’m using his furniture in our living room. His television set is downstairs in the family room. Some of his other things live in his siblings’ homes.
We’ve all found ways to touch what he touched last.
I am slowly getting better at getting rid of some of Dominic’s things.
Just yesterday my husband replaced faucets in the bathroom my boys used growing up. In the process we pulled out stuff from under the deep cabinets.
Tucked in the back were some old bottles of hair gel and other half-used, dried up products that once belonged to my fashion conscious son who was always trying to tame his curly hair.
I grabbed them and tossed them into a plastic trash bag as we prepared to put replace things underneath. I almost pulled them back out.
Sighing, I tied up the bag and took it straight to the big curbside garbage can before I could change my mind.
These things aren’t *just* things.
Every time I get rid of something that was Dominic’s I feel like I’m erasing a little bit more ofHIM. I feel like I’m losing one more touchstone to help my mind hold onto memories that might slip away without it.
They are a tangible connection that I can see, smell and touch to a child with whom I can no longer do any of those things.
I suspect I will always keep at least a tiny stash to pull out on heavy days or birthdays or just days when my heart needs reminding.